Not many years ago, just mentioning Russia or the USSR was enough to cause chills and goose bumps. Fears of communist spies, nuclear war and the death of democracy weren’t uncommon. Today, though some of the old fears may linger, U.S. relations with Russia have warmed up quite a few degrees.
As evidence of improved US-Russian relations, His Excellency Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak, Russian Ambassador to the United States, spoke at UVU Nov. 15 at 4 p.m. about hopes for continually improving cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in a number of spheres.
Kislyak began his visit with a short speech and then opened the floor for a Q-and- A session, saying he found Q-and-A sessions to be more interesting for both audiences and speakers.
One major topic of conversation was economics.
Kislyak stated that Russia now has a market economy. Later, he also noted that privatization in Russia is on the rise. In regards to the U.S., he explained that though U.S.-Russian trade amounts to billions of dollars, it is still very low. In fact, trade with Russia represents slightly less than 1 percent of the U.S.’s foreign trade, according to Kislyak.
Nevertheless, Kislyak noted that trade between the U.S. and Russia is growing. He also said while Russia is rich in oil and natural gas, the country is looking to diversify its economy.
The Russian government is “determined to make Russia more competitive,” Kislyak said.
One part of Russia’s plan for growth is joining the World Trade Organization. Russia has been attempting to jointhe WTO for approximately 18 years, according to Kislyak, and expects to finally be admitted this December. Kislyak stated that this should “significantly” increase U.S.- Russian cooperation and open the door for mutually beneficial opportunities.
One example of U.S.- Russian economic interaction Kislyak mentioned may surprise readers. The most popular car brand in Russia is Ford.
“We (the U.S. and Russia) cooperate more than we disagree,” Kislyak said.
However, Kislyak mentioned that Russia does not view a U.S. missile system in Central Europe as “benign,” a U.S. defense plan that has generated much international debate.
Other points Kislyak touched on included a general desire for “normalcy” along with “stability and predictability” in U.S.-Russian relations.
He also told the audience that Russia has freely allowed use of Russian land for the movement of U.S. troops in the current war in Afghanistan.
During the Q-and-A session, a student in the audience brought up U.S.-Russian space program cooperation. She recalled seeing Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, cross the sky. Kislyak stated that Russia and the U.S. are still cooperating in space endeavors. In fact, a Russian spacecraft carrying an American astronaut was launched only a few days ago. Kislyak said that the cooperation in the space field is “exemplary” and should be a model of cooperation to be applied in other areas.
At one point, the conversation got heated. A student in the audience asked Kislyak if Russia would join the U.S. in a military effort against Iran in the event that Iran obtains nuclear weapons. Kislyak replied that starting another war on shaky facts would be “ultimate stupidity.” He does not believe Iran has nuclear weapons or plans to attack and is not convinced of a major threat.
When student persisted, Kislyak asked, “So, you want to start a war?”
The young man continued to argue that Iran is a serious threat and eventually a moderator stepped in to move the Q-and-A session forward to other questions.
Later topics in the Q-and- A included a discussion of relations with Georgia and Chechnya. In regards to conflicts in Chechnya, Kislyak stated that “organized terrorist groups [there] have been exterminated.” Still, he expects that terrorism is not completely eradicated in that region.
Kislyak said that Russia has empathy for the U.S. regarding terrorism because Russians, too, have dealt with it. He noted that former Russian President Putin was the first to call President Bush after the 9/11 attacks.
“He’s a typical politician,” said Lisa Kharchenko, a student who hails from Russia attending the event.
She said he was able to say a lot without saying a lot. She explained that she saw him as skilled, especially as he was speaking English for the event. She said he was able to side-step controversial questions without being “rude or aggressive.”
Other students in attendance, such as Cameron Asbury and the co-presidents of the UVU Russian Club, were pleased with the event.
“[The event was] an unprecedented opportunity for students to engage with such a prominent member of the global community,” said John McClure, UVU Russian Club co-president.
Written By Sierra Wilson
Photo by Conner Allen