Robert Gates: U.S., Russia Not Headed for New Cold War

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, DC - The United States and Russia are not headed toward a new Cold War, and the United States still considers Russia a strategic ally, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during an interview with Radio Free Europe yesterday in Prague.

Gates was in the Czech Republic as part of a European trip that also has included stops in Ukraine and at NATO meetings in the Netherlands.

The defense secretary maintained that Russia and the United States still have many common interests and can work together.

“I think our approach should be to consider Russia a strategic partner until and unless it proves otherwise,” Gates said during the interview. “There has been a lot of rhetoric, but in terms of specific actions so far, the Russians have not taken any irreversible decisions. And they have, in some areas, continued to play a constructive role.”

The United States should continue to work with Russia where it can, he said.

The U.S. relationship with Russia is not in danger of becoming a new Cold War, Gates said. During the heyday of the Soviet Union, the United States was in the midst of an ideological war with communism.

The Cold War took place in a different world, the secretary said, and while some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric has been strong, Russia still is cooperating with the United States and European nations.

“We just don't have anything like the global competition or the global conflict that existed and where people were worried that we had our missiles pointed at each other all the time,” Gates said. “Nobody wants a new Cold War, and I don't think the Russians do, either.”

Gates shied away from the tendency of people to assume an “us vs. them” mindset, saying the world situation is more difficult and varied than during the Cold War. Kosovo is one example. “It's not just the United States that's dealing with Russia. Kosovo is above all a European matter, it's a NATO matter; it's for all of the Europeans -- the EU and so on,” he said. “So it's not just the United States trying to get the Russians to take a particular point of view on Kosovo, but it's all of Europe that is in this.

“And it's the same way on some of these other challenges that we face where we're talking with the Russians,” he added. The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, relations with Iran, the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and North Korea are all issues that many nations have concerns about, the secretary said.

“This is an issue about how Russia is going to interrelate with the rest of Europe,” the secretary said. “Does Russia wish to be a part of Europe and wish to be a strategic partner with the United States? I think they do. And I think that the increasing business investments, both in Russia and in Europe, can illustrate that that's true.”

Gates said people shouldn’t jump to conclusions over rhetoric from the Kremlin. Russia is much different from the former Soviet Union. While Russian leaders are more authoritarian than U.S. officials would wish, the country has not returned to the Soviet days. “As I said in my speech on democracy in Williamsburg a few weeks ago, it takes time to build the institutions of democracy,” he said. “Just having an election doesn't mean you have a democracy, so these institutions have to grow.

“I think we need to encourage the development of freedom in Russia, we need to encourage the development of democratic institutions, but also think we need to understand that those things take time,” Gates said.

Gates also discussed talks with Czech leaders about putting radar for an anti-ballistic missile system in the Czech Republic. Russia strongly resists this, even though Putin has received assurances that the system is not aimed at his country. Gates said the Czech leaders were intrigued by the new proposals the United States put on the table in Moscow.

“We made it perfectly clear in Russia that we were going to proceed with the negotiations with the Czech Republic and Poland regardless and, if those negotiations are successful, then to proceed to deploy, or build, these radars and interceptors,” Gates said.

“However, we also said that if the question is about the threat,” he continued, “then we might be willing to sit down and talk with the Russians about not activating the completed systems until the threat was apparent, in other words, until the Iranians or others in the Middle East had flight-tested missiles of a range that could hit Europe, as an example. And I think the government here, as in Moscow, was taken with it; even President Putin referred to the proposals as constructive.”

Gates said the future is still open for the Russian people. He believes there will be a gradual increase in democratic reforms in Russia as the economy improves. “I think part of the problem in Russia was that because the economy collapsed along with the Soviet Union,” he said. “In the minds of many Russians, democracy became confused with economic disaster, with criminal activities, with activities of the oligarchs and thievery and so on, and chaos.”

Russia lost an opportunity at that time, Gates said. “I think now, with stability, with economic growth, with growing prosperity, my hope is that that opportunity that … the Russians missed early in the 1990s will be recaptured, and that would be my hope for Russia over the next 10 years,” he said.

Source: American Forces Press Service