According to Yale Senior Fellow Thomas Graham, it seems that people in Washington, D.C., are “intent on preventing any serious engagement with Russia, absent Russia’s complete capitulation on a number of issues that are of importance to the United States.”
The lecture, hosted on Feb. 22 by the Program in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, looked at the future of U.S.-Russian relations. Graham gave the lecture after being introduced by program director Serguei Alex Oushakine.
Speaking in front of an audience of Princeton locals, University students, and professors, Graham began his lecture by challenging the views of Russia being fed to the public and asserting the detrimental effect they have on international relations.
“Contact with Russians [has] become suspect in some way, and efforts to work with the Russians to find solutions in our differences have been construed as selling out to the Russians,” Graham said. “It is particularly dispiriting for people like me who have engaged in this relationship for well over 25 to 30 years.”
Graham noted that the United States must approach Russia for a relationship that also balances U.S. interests, even though current policy makers construe any discourse with Russia as near-treason.
Graham labeled the five challenges facing the United States today: keeping the liberal national order, maintaining strategic stability with nuclear weapons in mind, managing the rise of China, maintaining the security of Europe, and curbing world terrorism. Graham argued that the U.S. requires the cooperation of the Russian Federation to effectively combat many of these challenges, especially European affairs.
“We have to do something that we have resisted doing in a serious way for so many years, and that is engaging the Russians in discussion in what the new European security architecture might look like,” Graham said. “We need to have a discussion on the principles that undergird the European security order.”
Graham also pressed the audience to consider the cold relationship between the United States and Russia from the Russian point of view, highlighting the complexity of Russian affairs and the possible hypocrisy found in some U.S. endeavors in world politics.
“We also need to admit to ourselves that Russia is too complex and our understanding of Russia remains too shallow for us to engage directly inside Russia in a constructive way.” Graham observed. “We also need to understand that much of our talk about democracy and human rights has come at a cost ... especially since we as a nation in recent years have not shown a shining example of democracy at work. So, who are we to tell the Russians how to run a country? We have to back away a bit.”
Graham finished by recommending that the new U.S. administration take three steps of slow reconciliation with the Russian government, including the reopening of channels of communication lost after the Ukraine crisis, destroying the bubble of anti-Russian hysteria in Washington, and persuading anti-Russian hawks to understand the benefits of Russian engagement to U.S. interests.
“We need to understand that in Russia-U.S. relations, less is more.” Graham said. “But that less cannot be less than zero, which is where we are now. So what is that minimal amount? That small amount we need to do in order to move forward? That is the challenge we face today, and one would hope that in the not-too-distant future that we would finally come to the conclusion that we need a policy, we do need to engage, and we ought to have sufficient confidence in our own abilities to engage in a way that doesn’t sacrifice or compromise our fundamental principles and have a good chance of making the world a better place for us, for our allies, and for the Russians as well.”
Graham’s lecture ended to applause from the audience. Oushakine expressed the promising nature of the new narrative on U.S.-Russian relations.
“I think it is a very promising and pragmatic approach against the hysteria happening in both Russia and the U.S.,” Oushakine said. “We need to understand that the relationship between Russia and the United States needs to be taken into account to solve the crises in Ukraine and Syria. It is a helpful departure from mainstream western commentary on Russian relations today.”
Graham’s lecture was held in the Louis A. Simpson International Building at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 22, and live-streamed on the University’s Media Central page.