Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States and Russia have been uneasy partners when it comes to shared interests such as trade, security and energy. Its accession into the World Trade Organization in August 2012, the result of 18 years of negotiations, has left onlookers wondering whether Russia will fulfill the commitments it agreed to, said Jill Dougherty, CNN foreign affairs correspondent, during a panel on “Russia and the West.”
Dougherty, who is writing a thesis on Russia’s soft power, said mainstream America doesn’t even think of the United States as having a trade relationship with Russia. “When was the last time you bought anything that said ‘Made in Russia?’” she asked rhetorically.
The panel was part of an all-day forum on Russia and the World: A Dynamic Landscape on March 28 at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. It was organized by the Jackson School of International Studies and the Herbert J. Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies in the Jackson School at UW in partnership with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and The Kennan Institute.
The event was dedicated to Herbert Ellison (1929-2012), who played a role in just about every major organization in Soviet and Russian studies in the U.S., including serving as director of both the UW Jackson School for International Studies and the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington, D.C. Many of the organizations were represented on the panels by colleagues of Ellison who described Ellison’s profound influence in the field of Soviet and post-Soviet studies.
The morning panel focused largely on trade between the United States and Russia, and the effects that Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization has meant for the U.S. and other trading partners.
U.S. exports to Russia were up in 2012, but Russia is still only the 26th biggest trading partner of United States. Matthew Edwards of the International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, stressed that businesses need to have realistic expectations of how WTO accession will affect the business climate as Russia plugs into the global economy. “I’d like people to see it as a process, not as an event,” he said.
Travis Sullivan (JSIS BA, 1997), vice president of strategy and business capture at Boeing Defense, said WTO accession has had a significant impact on Boeing, which has a 58 percent market share in Russia’s commercial airline market. With WTO, aerospace tariffs have dropped from 20 percent to 8.3 percent. In addition, Russia is an important trade partner for Boeing, as it supplies 35 percent of the titanium used in Boeing’s airplanes.
Alumni Natalia Wobst and Julia Hon both graduated in 2010 with MAs in the JSIS REECAS program (Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies). Hon – who works at IREX, an international nonprofit organization – said, “It’s nice to connect with the community, here and from Seattle.” She also appreciated learning more about Russian economics and how U.S.-Russian trade is on the rise. “We don’t realize how little positive news there is (about Russia in the United States),” she said.
Wobst recently worked as a coordinator for the Atlantic Council Energy and Economic Summit. As a 2010 graduate, she was interested in the lunchtime roundtable, which included a discussion about the need for graduates with area expertise. She agreed with Angela Stent, a professor at Georgetown University, who said federal and state governments are trying to give everyone equal access to education, but at the expense of international programs, especially Title VI programs.
Sam Eisen, U.S. Department of Defense, emphasized the importance of language learning in all areas of study and described a program that allows ROTC officers to study abroad for language training and cultural immersion. These students are needed in State and Defense and they are getting hired, he said.
Donald Hellmann, professor at the Jackson School of International Studies, spoke during the “Russia and the East” panel. He said that Arctic ice melt will result in new routes that will transform trade and stressed that the world needs initiatives that transcend economic values and establish common ground.
In addition to increased trade with the U.S., Russia has expanded its trade with Asia. Matthew Ouimet (MA, JSIS/REECAS, 1991; PhD, History, 1997), U.S. Department of State, said Russia’s interest in China and other Asian countries is likely to continue long-term. In September 2012, Russia hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit near Vladivostok. Andrew Kuchins, director and senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the location of the summit, as well as the choice of location for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, are significant because President Vladimir Putin sees these areas as vulnerable to Chinese influence.
As oil-extraction technology improves and makes shale oil increasingly accessible, Russia must look at how it will develop its own oil resources, including those in Siberia and other vulnerable areas, Kuchins said. He said the production in current fields is declining, but development of new sources requires private and public investment.
Scott Radnitz, professor at the UW Jackson School of International Studies, said change is happening in Central Asia and suggested U.S. policymakers can take several steps in the region that don’t conflict with Russian interests. For example, he said, the United States can send humanitarian aid to Tajikistan and Kurdistan. Central Asian countries also need more highly skilled workers, such as doctors, and the United States can help to educate a new generation of these non-security professionals.
Radnitz also suggested the U.S. treat Central Asian countries as fragile states. “Things aren’t worse than they have been,” he said. “But a place is stable until it’s not stable.” He said the declining legitimacy of states in the region is worrisome.
Volker Jacoby, a consultant, had recently returned to his home in the D.C. area after spending a year in Turkmenistan working with the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia. He attended the conference as a way to reacquaint himself with Russian discourse in the United States as well as to hear more about Russia from an academic point of view. Reiterating a point made by several of the panelists, Jacoby said, “I believe when talking about Russia one needs to talk about the former Soviet Union.” He said it’s important to understand the economics of the area as well as the politics.
This forum was the fourth in a series of annual events organized by the Jackson School of International Studies in Washington, D.C.
– By Kristina C. Bowman, firstname.lastname@example.org