That's right, your humble Cable guy is on his way to Germany to participate in the 48th annual Munich Security Conference, one of the largest gatherings of national security officials in the world.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), and a large delegation of experts and lawmakers led by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will be at the event, which begins Friday. Other senators and former officials from Washington headed to Munich include Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Udall (D-CO), Brent Scowcroft, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalizad, Kurt Volker, Dan Senor, and many others.
"It is arguably the most important security conference of them all," McCain told The Cable. "It's like Davos without the Hollywood aspect."
When McCain learned that The Cable will be at the conference, blogging and tweeting the whole time, he said, "Oh, no.... I'm going to call the German embassy."
Lieberman gave The Cable a little more historical perspective about the conference, which he has been attending for over 20 years, after first being invited by Sen. John Glenn (D-OH). Bill Cohen, who served as senator and later defense secretary, led the U.S. congressional delegation to the conference at that time. Cohen passed the baton to McCain when he left the Senate, and McCain invited Lieberman to be the co-leader of the delegation to give it a bipartisan character.
"For decades, it has been an occasion to discuss critical issues in the U.S.-European alliance. In the past 10 or 15 years it really has been broadened," Lieberman said. Defense ministers and foreign ministers from just about every NATO country attend and recently more and more heads of state are showing up as well, he said.
Among the foreign leaders expected to attend, in addition to U.S. and European officials, are Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jabali, and perhaps even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The interactions with the Russian delegation are always interesting, Lieberman said.
"We've had some very eyeball-to-eyeball matches when President [Vladimir] Putin has come," he said.
The main topics of the formal conference sessions will be the effect of the global recession on defense budgets, what President Barack Obama's so-called pivot to Asia means for U.S.-Europe relationship, and the uprisings in the Arab world.
But a lot of the action happens informally in the hallways and in the bilateral meetings that take place on the sidelines of the sessions. Last year, Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov actually exchanged the final documents of the New START treaty there.
McCain and Lieberman always plan one stop on the way to Munich. This year, they are touching down for a few hours in Madrid to meet with the Spanish government led by newly elected President Mariano Rajoy Brey.
It's a lot of foreign policy packed into only a couple of days, but watch this site for coverage of all the action.
"It's quick," Lieberman said. "We go Thursday and we'll be back Sunday night in time for the Super Bowl."
Photograph by Kai Mörk
The Russian government is following the path of the deposed regimes of Hosni Mubarak and Muammar al-Qaddafi and is setting itself up for a fall from power, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said in an exclusive interview with The Cable.
"You need to listen to what Russian leaders themselves are saying. They say ‘We are not Libya, we are not Egypt, Russia will not go down this road,'" Saakashvili said. "I've heard that from other leaders before. I heard it from Soviet leaders. And once you start saying those things it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then you start to do certain things and to not allow certain things, and those are exactly the kind of actions that promote further sliding down this road [toward losing power]."
Not only is Russia denying the desires of its own people by suppressing protests and real democracy, it is now leading the opposition to the wave of popular revolutions that the world witnessed over the past year, said the Georgian president, who fought a five-day war with Russia in 2008. The latest and greatest example, he said, is Russia's support for the brutal Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad.
"Syria stands as a symbol," Saakashvili said. "[The Russians] fully identify themselves with Libya but they thought that in Libya they were a fooled into action. And now with Syria they think that if Syria falls, it's the last bastion before Moscow. And this is exactly the kind of attitude that will bring problems closer home to Moscow. It's not going to help Syria in any way, but it's certainly damaging Russia a lot."
The anticipated return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency later this year is significant because his term will be marked by opposition to real reform both inside and outside Russia, Saakashvili said.
"Unlike Westerners who think in terms of superficial symbols that he's returning, the middle class in Moscow knew that he never went away," said Saakashvili. "It's not about returning Putin to the presidency, it's about what he said. And what he said was ‘I'm returning because I should stop any attempt to reform and crack down on any mode of reform,' and that's what the middle class in Russia heard."
U.S. engagement with Moscow is useful and efforts to continue the "reset" policy should continue, but all the signals from Russia indicate that it is returning to a pre-reset policy, the Georgian president added. He made the case that Russia showed real flexibility during its drive to get into the World Trade Organization in 2011, but now that it has achieved that goal, its attitude has reverted to one of confrontation.
One example is Russia's constantly stoking the rumor that the United States is planning to deploy missile defense elements to Georgia, something Saakashvili said simply isn't true.
"Vladimir Putin is talking about this all the time. Either he is strongly misguided or he's looking for reasons to say nasty things," he said.
Just minutes before his interview with The Cable, speaking in front of a packed audience in the sparkling new auditorium of the United States Institute of Peace headquarters in Washington, Saakashvili contrasted the reactions of Russia and Turkey to the Arab Spring.
"Two radical different attitudes have emerged, offered by two specific regional powers. On one hand, the Russian Federation reacted with outrage and panic to the Arab Spring and tries to do anything they can to prevent any international support to the democracy movements anywhere. On the other hand, Turkey asserts itself as the model for the post revolutionary countries," he said.
"On the one hand, the government of Vladimir Putin desperately tries to hold back the progress of history. On the other hand, the government of Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan tries to embrace the revolutions of the world. Two very different prime ministers," he said. "It's not a coincidence that Russian influence is decreasing while Turkish leadership is growing in the region every day."
Saakashvili also talked about Georgia's struggles following its separation from the Soviet empire, and the lessons he might offer to new governments undergoing similar difficulties.
"Georgia's experience does not provide a transferable model for many countries that have known or will sooner or later know progressive uprising. There was no freedom textbook for us, and no textbook for our friends was ever written. The real revolution occurs after the cameras from CNN, BBC, and the others have left the country. It consists of the long and difficult process of reform that follows," he said.
"This is a lesson and a message of hope. There is no future for global powers playing against the will of their own people."
The Cable also asked Saakashvili for his opinion of actor Andy Garcia's portrayal of him in the movie Five Days of War, the 2011 film about the Russian-Georgian conflict.
"I only saw parts of it, but what I know is that my English was a little better than his and that was very reassuring," he said.
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images
There's been plenty of reporting about the Georgian government's extensive lobbying effort in Washington, but little is known about the new and expansive lobbying effort now in place on behalf of a Georgian billionaire and a leading opposition lawmaker, who are confronting Georgia's president on the world stage.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is in Washington today, having lunch with Vice President Joe Biden and meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office -- a testament to the recent successes in the U.S.-Georgia relationship, as well as the successful efforts of Saakashvili's Washington lobbying duo, made up of the firms Orion Strategies and the Podesta Group.
"I think Georgia should be extraordinarily proud of the progress that is made in building a sovereign and democratic country," Obama said after the meeting. "And one of the first things that I did was express my appreciation for the institution-building that's been taking plac in Georgia; the importance of making sure that minorities are respected; the importance of a police and system of rule of law that is being observed -- the kinds of institution-building that is going to make an enormous difference in the future of not just this generation of Georgians but future generations of Georgians."
But if Saakashvili opened up his morning New York Times or Washington Post when he woke up at Blair House on Monday, he would have seen a full-page ad sponsored by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire tycoon of Georgian descent who is working closely with Irakli Alasania, the leader of Georgia's Free Democrats Party and the president's main political rival.
"The Rose Revolution of 2003 inspired many, myself included, to hope that Georgia would move toward a pluralistic democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights, and a free and open society," Ivanishvili wrote in the ad, which was framed as an open letter to Obama. "What we have instead is a super-centralized, almost neo-Bolshevik style of governance, which exhausted itself long ago, which not only impedes the nation's progress, but also jeopardizes its own achievements.
"We urge the leaders of the USA and the entire democratic community, do proceed and encourage the nation's movement towards the Euro-Atlantic integration, and at the same time, do apply all assets available to secure free and fair ballot for our citizens at the October 2012 parliamentary elections," the ad reads.
The ad identifies Ivanishvili as a Georgian businessman and philanthropist who was stripped of his citizenship by Saakashvili. The Georgian government contends Ivanishvili never renounced his French citizenship and needs a presidential waiver to hold dual nationalities -- a waiver he isn't likely to get. Regardless, Ivanishvili and his "Georgian Dream" movement are increasingly vocal in Georgia, and now in Washington as well.
Ivanishvili is currently paying the lobbying firm BGR Group $25,000 per month, according to disclosure filings, in a contract signed last November. He is also paying another $20,000 per month to Sam Patten, a Tbilisi-based consultant who is working with BGR on behalf of Ivanishvili, the disclosure records show. That money is paid through a London-based entity called BGR-Garbara, LTD, which the records state is working on behalf of Ivanishvili.
BGR-Garbara, LTD, also pays Patten $10,000 per month to work on behalf of Alasania, according to disclosure filings, to "advise U.S. officials" on political developments in Georgia, and for "arranging meetings with U.S. officials on behalf of the foreign principal [Alasania]."
Another contract filing shows that BGR-Garbara, LTD, also pays BGR an undisclosed sum to work on behalf of Alasania and the Free Democrats. The filing defines BGR-Garbara, LTD, as "a pan-European government affairs and public relations firm engaged by ‘Free Democrats'... for the purposes of promoting a stronger Georgian democracy through fair, open, and honest elections in 2012." Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker is also working on the contract for BGR, according to lobbying e-mails sent out by BGR to journalists and non-governmental organizations.
We're told by two sources that Alasania and Ivanishvili have also recently signed a contract with Patton Boggs, a powerful D.C. lobbying law firm, although no disclosure forms have yet been submitted. Both sources also confirmed that Ivanishvili's representatives made a pass at the Podesta Group, offering to double their fee to switch teams, but Podesta declined.
Ivanishvili is also working with Sam Amsterdam, the son of Robert Amsterdam, the Canadian lawyer made famous by his defense of imprisoned Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. There's no disclosure filing for that relationship because Sam Amsterdam is not a U.S. citizen and is not lobbying U.S. officials. Ivanishvili has made statements criticizing Khordorkovsky in the past. Robert Amsterdam is not working with Ivanishvili or his son on the project.
Ivanishvili's critics paint him as a Russia-funded oligarch whose agenda is anti-Western and therefore anti-American. They point to his seemingly soft stance on Russia, such as when he said of once and future President Vladimir Putin, "the Russian people like this man," and that Russia "is not the worst example of an undemocratic state." He has also blamed Saakashvili for the outbreak of war with Russia in 2008.
Ivanishvili's ties to Russia are not only political, but economic. He made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s, and still maintains at least a 1 percent stake in Gazprom, the semi-state controlled energy behemoth. (The Russian Federation and Gazprom are represented in Washington by Ketchum).
Patten, in a phone interview from Tbilisi, told The Cable that the Georgian opposition is simply maturing to the point where it recognizes the need for greater international stature.
Ivanishvili made his money in Russia before Putin's return to power, Patten said. Ivanishvili believes that confronting the Georgian government's lobbying in Washington is part of his effort to show the world there is an alternative to the Saakashvili government.
"In the Georgian mentality, there's a sense that Washington creates outcomes, but you have to win an election based on what you do on the ground," said Patten. "In the end, that's what matters."
Regardless, for Georgia-watchers around Washington, there are now two full fledged lobbying efforts to contend with. In a recent interview, Ivanishvili promised to ramp up his lobbying efforts around the world.
"They [the government] are spending a lot of money on lobbyists... The money of the people... They are wasting the money of the poor people," he said. "We have started very serious work and it needs to be organized well. In a few months, we will change the situation and we will change the attitude of the Europe and the U.S., and we will show them the reality. You will see this very soon."
Correction: This article originally stated -- incorrectly -- that DLA Piper was the third lobbying partner for the Georgian government. In fact, there are only two firms. Additionally, the original article contained a quote attributed to Alasania that could not be independently verified.
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
The State Department shot back at the Russian government today following an attack on the new U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Mike McFaul, in the Russian state-owned media.
"The fact is that McFaul is not an expert on Russia. He is a specialist in a particular pure democracy promotion," read a report published on Tuesday on Russia 1, the television channel that is run by the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK).
The Russian state television report also criticized President Barack Obama for appointing McFaul because he is not a career diplomat and accused him of having an agenda of supporting Russian opposition groups in an attempt to destabilize the Russian government.
"This is the second case of the violation of this tradition over the past 30 years. A first exception was [former U.S. envoy to Russia] Bob Strauss, appointed by [former President George H.W.] Bush, which, again, was meant to serve the collapse of the Soviet Union," the report said.
In response to a question at today's briefing posed by The Cable, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland backed up McFaul and said that he isn't going anywhere and isn't going to stop meeting with civil society and democracy activists in Russia, as he did over the weekend.
"With regard to Ambassador McFaul, as the Russian Federation knows very well ... he is one of the U.S. government's top experts on Russia. He was, and remains, a key architect of the president's ‘reset' policy," Nuland said.
"He is obviously going to do his job, which is to continue to look for opportunities to cooperate strongly with the government in our mutual interest, but also to speak out clearly and meet with a broad cross section of Russians, including those Russians who are hopeful that their country will move in an increasingly democratic direction," Nuland added. "So he will continue to do that."
McFaul's meetings with activists just happened to coincide with a visit to Moscow by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who commented extensively on Russia's incomplete transition to democracy in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant.
"It is very important for people to be able to continue to express their concerns and their views openly and peacefully. We will continue to support Russians inside and outside the government who stand for transparency and accountability. That's deeply in Russia's self-interest," Burns said.
"I would stress that we have no interest -- zero interest -- in interfering in Russian politics.... Nor do we seek to offer lectures to Russians or preach to them about democracy. I know from my own experience how unenthusiastic Russians are about such lectures. What we can do, and what we will continue to do, openly and unapologetically, is to support universal human rights, to support the evolution of the rule of law and democratic institutions, to support Russia's continuing political and economic modernization."
Apparently, this is Moscow's idea of rolling out the "red carpet": Russian state television today launched an all-out assault on new U.S. Ambassador Mike McFaul.
"The fact is that McFaul is not an expert on Russia. He is a specialist in a particular pure democracy promotion," read a report published on Russia 1, the channel that is run by the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK).
The Russian government was evidently displeased that McFaul met with human rights activists in his first official function at the Moscow embassy, where he was joined by visiting Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. The Russian media's public smear campaign against McFaul accused him of working on behalf of the "so-called democratic movement" in the country during the early 1990s, when he visited there on behalf of the National Democratic Institute -- an organization "known for its proximity to the U.S. intelligence services," according to the TV report.
The report then quotes from several of McFaul's writings and from The Cable's post on McFaul to accuse him of having an agenda of supporting Russian opposition groups in an attempt to destabilize the Russian government.
The hostile welcome represents a sharp rebuke to McFaul's message of openness and cooperation that he brought with him upon arriving in Moscow last week.
"As President Obama's representative in Russia, I believe my most important mission is to continue to help Russians understand who Americans are, what we stand for, and what we seek in our relationship with Russia and the Russian people," McFaul said in his video message to the Russian people, posted Jan. 15 on The Cable.
"The most important part of my job will be to foster more contact between the people of the United States and the people of Russia. I'm interested in not only meeting government officials, but people from other political parties and movements, businessmen and women, civil society activists, and regular Russians just like you."
The Russian state television report also criticized President Barack Obama for appointing McFaul because he is not a career diplomat. "This is the second case of the violation of this tradition over the past 30 years. A first exception was [former U.S. envoy to Russia] Bob Strauss, appointed by [former President George H.W.] Bush, which, again, was meant to serve the collapse of the Soviet Union, a characteristic detail," the report said.
The Russian State TV report then accused McFaul of writing hundreds of articles against once and future Russian President Vladimir Putin, and criticized McFaul's book, Russia's Unfinished Revolution.
"Has Mr. McFaul arrived in Russia to work on his specialty? That is, to finish the revolution?" the report asked. "It is hoped that [this stay in the embassy] will not be for Mr. McFaul, ‘the best time of his life.'"
Nothing like a winter welcome to Moscow...
New U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul stars in this high production value YouTube video as part of his self-introduction to the Russia people. His new publicity effort also includes a new Twitter feed @McFaul, where he tweets in Russian and English.
Here's a transcript of his remarks in the video, delivered in English with Russian subtitles, after the jump:
The United States and Russia will conclude a missile defense cooperation agreement eventually as a result of the "strategic stability" talks between the two powers, according to the State Department's top arms control official.
"We will get a missile defense agreement for cooperation with Russia," Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher told a meeting of the Defense Writers Group on Thursday. "I believe that missile defense is the metaphor for the opportunity of getting things right [in the U.S.-Russia relationship]. It's been an irritant in our relationship for 30 years. It's also the place where great European powers, including Russia, can work together cooperatively."
Tauscher talked at length about her ongoing discussions, which she dubbed "strategic stability" talks, with Russian officials over missile defense. These have centered around cooperation on the Obama administration's European missile defense program, known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach, she said.
"Almost everything else that you work with on European security has been settled, decided, and worked on together for decades. The only thing that's new where you can bring the Russians in is missile defense," Tauscher said. "This is the place where we can begin to put aside the Cold War and ‘mutually assured destruction' and move toward ‘mutually assured stability.'"
Your humble Cable guy asked Tauscher why the Obama administration's optimism about a missile defense agreement with Moscow seems so far removed from the pessimism of leading Russian officials. In a November speech, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggested talks had broken down and he threatened several retaliatory measures, including Russia's potential withdrawal from the New START nuclear reductions agreement.
Tauscher responded that these statements were part of the Russian campaign season and that progress would speed up once the March Presidential elections in Russia had subsided. She also acknowledged that the Russians are demanding a legally binding document from the Obama administration promising U.S. missile defenses in Europe will not impact Russia's strategic deterrent, which Tauscher said they will never get.
"We will never do a legally binding agreement because I can't do one. I can't get anything ratified. Even if I wanted to I'm not sure I would.... ‘Legally binding' doesn't mean what it did before," Tauscher said. "What they are looking for really is a sense that future administrations are going to live by [Obama's commitments]. And you can't really do that."
GOP senators fought hard against during the New START debate against giving Russia any assurances that could be seen as limits on the U.S. missile defense system. Tauscher said the only way for Russia to be assured about the U.S. system was to cooperate fully in its implementation.
"The only way they are going to be assured ... the system does not undercut their strategic deterrent is to sit with us in the tent in NATO and see what we are doing. They will only be their own eyes and ears," she said. "Is it a political leap of faith? Yes. Are they ready to do it? No. But we are hoping that these strategic stability talks over the next 8 months will start to loosen these old ties that have been binding everybody in the old way of thinking."
Tauscher also said implementation of New START with Russia was going extremely well, one year after ratification. There have been 1,700 notifications [of missile movements, etc] and each side has done near the maximum allowed number of inspections, she said.
"We have a very good treaty. Nobody claimed it was the best or the biggest treaty in the world. But it's a modest treaty that has served us in so many different ways," she said. "New START is just doing great."
Tauscher said the Obama administration hopes the "strategic stability" talks will establish reliability and durability in the U.S.-Russia relationship, which will lead to further nuclear reduction talks following Russia's presidential election, including discussions about reducing Russia's tactical nuclear stockpile.
"We want to get back to the table with the Russians both on strategic and non-strategic, deployed and non-deployed. That means everything," she said "We need the elections can pass so that both sides can get back to the table."
Overall, Tauscher disputed the contention that U.S.-Russia relations have peaked, and she dismissed those who have pointed to official comments from either side that seem to indicate the U.S.-Russia "reset" policy is coming to an end.
"While you might pick little data points out and say well there's a little bit of snotty talk here or there... the truth is everything is moving along, nose up, things are good."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swore in Mike McFaul as the U.S. ambassador to Russia at a ceremony on Teusday at the State Department, where McFaul defended and pledged to continue the administration's U.S.-Russia reset policy.
"This is a good day for us all -- for the United States, which is sending an absolutely top-notch emissary to Moscow, and for our partners in Russia.... And for Mike and his family, it will be an adventure," Clinton said, standing in front of a packed audience of diplomats, officials, experts, and journalists in the State Department's elegant Benjamin Franklin ballroom.
"This administration has placed a particular emphasis on working together with Russia, one of the most complex and consequential relationships we have with any nation in the world.... And I think it's fair to say we have a lot to show for that effort," she said.
Clinton highlighted several achievements of the reset policy, including the New START agreement, the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, the 1-2-3 Agreement for Civil Nuclear Cooperation, expanding supply routes into Afghanistan, and working on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization.
Clinton recounted the story of how the United States informed Russia that McFaul would be the ambassador, which was different from the usual diplomatic notification.
"When President [Barack] Obama saw President [Dmitry] Medvedev at the G-8 summit in Deauville [France] in May, he simply said, ‘I'm planning to nominate Mike to be the next ambassador to Russia.' And President Medvedev responded immediately with a tone full of respect, ‘Of course. He's a tough negotiator,'" Clinton recounted.
She also said she expects to hear stories about McFaul's jam sessions in Moscow when members of his band come to visit.
"And I'm even told there may be a few rock and roll sessions when Mike's band mates from The Pigs visit Moscow. And it's not an agricultural issue, ambassador. I don't think they'll need to be quarantined with their instruments," Clinton joked.
In his remarks, McFaul also defended the reset policy and thanked his family for moving with him to Moscow instead of returning to their home in Palo Alto, California, as had been planned.
"I was planning on going home and so were my sons, but Secretary Clinton and President Obama thought otherwise, because the reset was not completed last summer, nor is it over now, as some are saying. On the contrary, today we're on to the next, more complex phase, when the alignment of our interests and values is neither simple nor easy," McFaul said. "On to the next adventure. Russia, here we come!"
Several senior Obama administration officials from both the State Department and the National Security Council, where McFaul had been serving as senior director for Russia since 2009, attended the event. They included White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, the NSC's Denis McDonough, Ben Rhodes, and Liz Sherwood-Randall, and the ambassadors of Russia, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Romania, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, and many others.
The nomination of Mike McFaul to become ambassador to Russia cleared one major hurdle Thursday as Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) lifted his hold. The administration was working hard Thursday to satsify other GOP senators' concerns as the Senate prepares to adjourn for the year.
If McFaul is not confirmed by the Senate this month, there will be a vacancy atop the U.S. embassy in Moscow as of next week, when Amb. John Beyrle leaves. Kirk had been very public about his reasons for placing a hold on the McFaul nomination, saying that he was seeking written assurances that President Barack Obama's administration will not provide Russia with any currently classified information on the U.S. missile defense system. Several other members of Congress -- and some experts outside Congress, such as former Missile Defense Agency head Lt. Gen. Trey Obering - echoed Kirk's concern.
On Tuesday, Robert Nabors, director of the White House office of legislative affairs, wrote a letter to Kirk on the matter that was obtained by The Cable.
"We will not provide Russia with sensitive information about our missile defense systems that would in any way compromise our national security. For example, hit-to-kill technology and interceptor telemetry will under no circumstances be provided to Russia," wrote Nabors. "However, in the event that the exchange of classified information with Russia on missile defense will increase the president's ability to defend the American people, the president will retain the right to do that."
In a Thursday interview with The Cable, Kirk said that this assurance, combined with new language in the defense authorization bill requiring 60 days notice before any classified missile defense data is shared with Russia, was enough to reassure him that no classified missile defense data will ever be shared. The law also requires the president to certify in writing that Russia won't share the data with any third parties, such as Iran.
Kirk said that the administration can't possibly certify that Russia won't share the information, so there won't be any way for the administration to meet the defense bill's requirement. If the administration does try to notify Congress it plans to share classified missile defense data with Russia, Kirk promised there would be hearings, legislative action, and a full-court press to oppose it.
"They would have a two-month all out fight on their hands," he said.
Kirk also pointed out that the Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitri Rogozin, who has been insulting Kirk on Twitter, is set to travel to Iran next month. "There is no doubt that Iran will share with Russia the technologies found in our RQ-170 drone," Kirk said. "It's extremely troubling that Russia's top official on missile defense is deepening his relationship with Iran."
Kirk praised McFaul and said his record on promoting democracy and human rights will be an asset if and when he takes over the U.S. embassy in Moscow. The hold was never about McFaul personally, Kirk said.
With Kirk's hold gone, that leaves four other GOP senators who had expressed public or private objections to the McFaul nomination: Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), James Risch (R-ID), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Richard Burr (R-NC), who has threatened to hold all State Department nominees until State designates the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization..
Corker had placed a hold on McFaul to ensure that the United States fully funds the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) budget, which includes funding for the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, for FY 2012. If Congress passes the omnibus bill with full NNSA funding this week, that should take care of Corker's concerns.
DeMint's objection, which is especially important because he controls the Republican Steering Committee, is over the administration's refusal to share internal documents related to its negotiations with Russia over missile defense. Examples of documents sought by DeMint include the draft of the U.S.-Russia Defense Technology Cooperation Agreement.
DeMint has taken multiple hostages in his fight with the State Department over these documents, including holding the nomination of Mike Hammer to be assistant secretary of State for public affairs.
DeMint and the other GOP senators met with McFaul in the Capitol today for a briefing and McFaul showed the senators the draft DTCA. The hope is that this meeting was enough to satisfy their concerns about U.S. policy toward Russia and information sharing with Congress.
Meanwhile, 36 conservative foreign policy experts wrote to top senators today to plead for the confirmation of Matthew Bryza as ambassador to Azerbaijan. Bryza is currently serving under a recess appointment that expires next month.
His nomination was being held up last year by two Democrats, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who are seen to be representing the concerns of their Armenian constituencies, which are unhappy with the administration's policy opposing a Congressional resolution condemning the 1915 Armenian genocide.
"It is understandable that Armenian Americans and even some Senators will disagree with the U.S. policy concerning whether to call the events of 1915 a genocide. That is an argument to be hashed out with the U.S. Administration on the merits," the experts wrote. "But holding up a qualified career nominee who is already serving in a key position will not change U.S. policy, and does a disservice to U.S. interests in a critical region."
Fresh off his war of words with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russia's once-and-future President Vladimir Putin is calling out another senior U.S. politician: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
Unlike Clinton, who doesn't actually want to be trading insults with Putin in the press, McCain relishes these types of confrontations. In fact, McCain might have even started it when he tweeted on Dec. 6, "Dear Vlad, The ArabSpring is coming to a neighborhood near you."
That was a reference to the anti-Putin rallies in Moscow to protest Russia's parliamentary elections, which Clinton called "not free and fair."
On Thursday, Putin insulted McCain during a TV call-in show.
"He has the blood of peaceful civilians on his hands, and he can't live without the kind of disgusting, repulsive scenes like the killing of Qaddafi," Putin said.
Putin then took his insults one step further, accusing McCain of losing his marbles when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"Mr. McCain was captured and they kept him not just in prison, but in a pit for several years," said Putin. "Anyone [in his place] would go nuts."
McCain responded Thursday morning on Twitter, writing, "Dear Vlad, is it something I said?"
Putin didn't even address McCain's comments at the Foreign Policy Initiative Forum on Tuesday in Washington, when he accused the entire Russian government of corruption.
"I think this a corrupt system -- an oligarchy.... This is a kleptocracy. It's certainly not a representative government," McCain told the forum.
If President Barack Obama's administration wants to share sensitive data about U.S. missile defense systems with Russia, it now must at least tell Congress in advance, according to the final version of the defense authorization bill.
It was revealed in November that the Obama administration was considering sharing sensitive missile defense information with Russia in a bid to assure the Russians that U.S. missile defense capabilities in Europe were not a threat to their ballistic missile forces. For example, the United States reportedly offered to give Russia the details of the burnout velocity of the SM-3 interceptor missile, which would tell the Russians how far our interceptor missiles could chase their missiles.
The House version of the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill banned any such sharing, but the conference report issued Monday evening softened that restriction. The final version of the legislation, which will land on Obama's desk later this week, requires that the administration give Congress 60 days notice before giving any classified missile defense information to the Russians. The defense bill is considered a "must pass" bill and Obama won't likely veto it over this provision.
The notification must include a detailed description of the information to be shared, an explanation for why such sharing is in the U.S. national security interest, an explanation of what the Russians are giving in return, and an explanation of how the administration can be sure the information won't be shared with third parties, such as Iran.
Of course, the future of U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation is unclear. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev seemed to announce the failure of the talks on Nov. 23, when he also announced a series of retaliatory measures to counter U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe and threatened to withdraw from the New START treaty. But the administration still insists that it plans to continue U.S.-Russian negotiations over how to work together on missile defense.
The concern on Capitol Hill is that the administration will give up valuable information before striking a deal, thereby undermining the effectiveness of U.S. missile defenses before they are even fully deployed.
"It's not at all clear that the Russians have any interest in so-called missile defense cooperation with the United States, but, assuming that the State Department or Defense Department propose to offer classified information to Russia on U.S. missile defenses, for the first time, they will have to tell Congress before they do so," a GOP congressional aide close to the issue told The Cable today. "Congress will have plenty of time to evaluate the proposal and raise objections as necessary."
Meanwhile, the top Russian official dealing with the issue, Russia's NATO Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin, has a new side job: accusing the United States of fomenting unrest in Russia. He gave a speech stoking fears of U.S. aggression against Russia at a rally this week for the ruling United Russia party. The demonstration was called to counter the protests that broke out last week in Moscow and elsewhere around the country after Russia's flawed parliamentary elections.
"There are forces today that consider Russia easy prey," Rogozin said. "They bombed Iraq. They destroyed Libya. They are approaching Syria. They stepped all over the people of Yugoslavia. And they are now thinking about Russia and are waiting for a moment when it is weak."
Rogozin, who got the red carpet treatment from the administration when he visited the United States in July, has also been keeping up his war of words on Twitter with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), whom he in July called a "monster of the Cold War," along with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
"My friend Kerk [sic] is relentless. He is now stifling Amb. Michael McFaul," Rogozin tweeted Dec. 4, linking to The Cable's article on Kirk's hold on McFaul's nomination to become ambassador to Russia. "With guys like Kerk US is pushing its way ahead."
At least five U.S. embassies could begin the New Year without an official ambassador at the helm, due to the ongoing feud between the State Department and the Senate over several ambassadorial nominees and secret Senate holds.
As of Jan. 1, if Congress doesn't act by the end of the year, there will be no U.S. ambassador in Russia, India, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, and Azerbaijan. Three of the current ambassadors at those posts (Czech, El Salvador, and Azerbaijan) were placed there by President Barack Obama through recess appointments that expire at the end of this month, but face stiff opposition in the Senate and may not be confirmed for their posts. The nominee for the fourth (Russia) is being held up by GOP senators over issues not related to his qualifications for the job. The India ambassador slot is vacant now and nobody has been nominated to fill it.
U.S. ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle will leave Moscow this month and return to the United States, multiple administration officials confirmed. Obama has nominated National Security Council Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul to replace him, but McFaul's nomination is being held up in the Senate by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who wants the administration to give Congress assurances that the United States will not share sensitive missile defense data with the Russian Federation. Several other senators may also emerge to oppose the McFaul nomination, several Hill sources report, not due to any personal objections to McFaul, but due to their unhappiness with Obama's reset policy with Russia.
Eight prominent conservative foreign policy experts wrote to Obama today to ask the administration to strike a deal with Kirk in order to facilitate McFaul's confirmation and avoid having a vacancy at the top of the Moscow embassy.
"Time is short if Dr. McFaul is to be in Moscow before the New Year. In the aftermath of the deeply flawed Duma election, it is imperative to have Dr. McFaul's voice heard in Russia as soon as possible. We urge you to work with Senator Kirk's office in order both to protect our national security and to expedite Ambassador-Designate McFaul's confirmation," wrote Eric Edelman, Jamie Fly, Bruce Jackson, Robert Kagan, David Kramer, David Merkel, Steve Rademaker and Randy Scheunemann.
The same group wrote a letter last month praising McFaul as a good choice for ambassador to Russia. Conservatives are torn between their desire to see Congress push back against Obama's Russia policies and their support for McFaul personally.
Another U.S. ambassador nominee that has a lot of conservative support is Norm Eisen, the current ambassador to the Czech Republic. Eisen was sent to the Prague as a recess appointment because of objections by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IO). Grassley is still upset over the June 2009 removal of Gerald Walpin as Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a position where he oversaw government programs such as AmeriCorps.
Eisen, the former White House ethic czar, was a key figure in the controversy and defended the White House's actions. He also made the case to Congress that Walpin was unfit for his position, writing in a letter to senators shortly after the sacking that Walpin "was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve." Walpin called those allegations "absolutely amazing."
Grassley, along with Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), has never dropped the issue of Walpin's firing. Grassley's shop contributed heavily to a joint House-Senate report released last November they say alleged not only that Walpin's firing was handled improperly, but also that Eisen misled Congress about the matter.
A slightly different group of conservative foreign policy hands wrote to Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) today to urge them to push the Eisen confirmation process forward.
"Ambassador Eisen's appointment was already delayed after his initial nomination in 2010, leaving us without an ambassador in Prague at a key moment in U.S.-Czech relations. The absence of an ambassador in 2012 would again send the wrong message to our Czech allies," the experts wrote. "While we support the prerogative of senators to raise concerns about presidential nominees, we believe that in this case, the importance of having an ambassador in Prague as well as Ambassador Eisen's record over the last year should ensure his speedy confirmation."
letter was signed by Fly, Jackson, Scheunemann, Rick Graber, Stuart Levey, Michael Makovsky, Clifford D. May, John
O'Sullivan, Gary Schmitt, Kurt Volker, and Ken Weinstein.
The Cable reported last week that Mari Carmen Aponte, the currently serving U.S ambassador to El Salvador, might have to come back to Washington at the end of the year because her re-nomination process is facing a huge amount of pushback from Senate Republicans.
Aponte's initial nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was held up last year in an effort led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who was demanding more information about Aponte's long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who allegedly had ties to both the FBI and Castro's intelligence apparatus, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation at the time. She wasn't confirmed, but Obama sent her to El Salvador via a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the year.
DeMint shows no signs of backing down and Aponte was barely approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with a 10-9 vote that fell along party lines.
Another U.S. ambassador who may have to pack his bags this month is Matthew Bryza, Obama's envoy to Azerbaijan. His nomination was being held up last year by two Democrats, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who are seen to be representing the Armenian voting constituencies unhappy with the administration's policy opposing a congressional resolution condemning the 1915 Armenian genocide.
The U.S. Azeris Network (USAN), an Azeri diaspora group, has started a public awareness campaign to push for Bryza's confirmation.
"Armenians are working to get Bryza [to] return to America in January 2012, seeking thereby to paralyze the mission of the US ambassador to Azerbaijan and to show that the Armenian lobby has a veto in relation to who will be the next U.S. ambassador to Baku," USAN said in a statement on Tuesday.
Former Ambassador to India Tim Roemer left his post in June for family reasons. The Obama has yet to nominate anyone to replace him in New Delhi.
The U.S.-Russian talks to cooperate on missile defense have apparently failed, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced a series of retaliatory measures today aimed at giving Russia the ability to destroy the American-led system in Eastern Europe.
In a statement to the "citizens of Russia" on Wednesday, Medvedev announced that the year-long negotiations between the President Barack Obama's administration and its Russian counterparts to find a way to work together on what's known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach to ballistic missile defense were over. Medvedev said Russia was unable to attain written assurances from the United States that the system would not and could not be used to counter Russia's ballistic missile force. Medvedev announced several aggressive Russian moves to counter the U.S. system, and also threatened to withdraw from the New START nuclear reductions treaty in retaliation.
"We are to replace the friction and confrontation in our relations with the principles of equality, indivisible security, mutual trust, and predictability. Regrettably, the USA and other NATO partners have not showed enough willingness to move in this direction," Medvedev said.
Medvedev implied that the U.S. Congress was one of the primary obstacles in the negotiations, because some GOP senators are opposed to giving Russia any written assurances that could be seen as "limits" on U.S. missile defense and other GOP senators have called for the system to be directed at Russia.
"Rather than showing themselves
willing to hear and understand our concerns over the European missile defense
system at this stage, [U.S. officials] simply repeat that these plans are not
directed against Russia and that there is no point for us to be concerned. That
is the position of the executive authorities, but legislators in some countries
openly state the whole system is against Russia," Medvedev said.
He promised Russia would immediately move to put the missile attack early-warning radar station in Kaliningrad on combat alert, deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, equip Russia's strategic ballistic missiles with advanced missile-defense penetration systems and new highly-effective warheads, design measures to disable U.S. missile defenses, and deploy modern offensive weapon systems able to "take out any part of the US missile defense system in Europe."
If the situation continues to
deteriorate, Medvedev threatened to go further and withdraw from the New START
treaty, which the White House fought so hard to ratify last year.
"If the situation continues to develop not to Russia's favor, we reserve the right to discontinue further disarmament and arms control measures," he said. "Besides, given the intrinsic link between strategic offensive and defensive arms, conditions for our withdrawal from the New START Treaty could also arise, and this option is enshrined in the treaty."
Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher was a key official in the development of the European missile defense scheme, and also led the negotiations on missile defense cooperation with Russia. When the system was announced in 2009, the Obama administration took criticism for abandoning former President George W. Bush's approach, which had focused on placing ground-based interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Critics accused the administration of pandering to Russia by abandoning the Polish and Czech sites for the new approach, which had a greater focus on Aegis ships operating at sea and mobile systems in countries including Romania and Bulgaria. The administration proudly announced a new radar site in Turkey in September.
Russia has always objected to the plans, arguing that the system has an inherent capability to counter Russian missiles. The Obama administration has always countered that the system was directed at Iran, not Russia. The cooperation being discussed was aimed at giving Russia enough access to data and operations to reassure them the system was not aimed at them. Some saw the effort as naïve.
"The notion that Moscow would politely accept the EPAA after New START was never realistic," a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable today. "They seek to limit U.S. missile defenses by any and all means."
The aide argued that since the Obama administration secured NATO endorsement for the missile defense scheme, Russia's retaliatory moves must be considered a threat to the entire alliance and prompt the administration to fully fund all four phases of the missile defense plan.
"These Russian systems threaten NATO allies, and we have to respond with both robust defense and credible nuclear reassurance in Europe."
Today's announcement by Medvedev is the second backwards step in the U.S.-Russia reset in two days. On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that it would stop honoring its obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty with regard to Russia. That was retaliation for Russia's complete disregard for the CFE treaty since 2007.
Nobody should be surprised by this development, but it shows that the U.S.-Russian reset policy may not survive the current round of U.S. and Russian talks, the aide said.
"This was long expected and it's a test for the durability of the personal policies of the President --the Russian reset and nuclear zero. Here we indeed see a reset, to something circa 1986."
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor responded to Medvedev's comments by pledging the U.S. would continue to build the system.
"The United States has been open and transparent with Russia on our plans for missile defense in Europe, which reflect a growing threat to our allies from Iran that we are committed to deterring. In multiple channels, we have explained to Russian officials that the missile defense systems planned for deployment in Europe do not and cannot threaten Russia's strategic deterrent. Implementation of the New START treaty is going well and we see no basis for threats to withdraw from it," he said. "We continue to believe that cooperation with Russia on missile defense can enhance the security of the United States, our allies in Europe, and Russia, and we will continue to work with Russia to define the parameters of possible cooperation. However, in pursuing this cooperation, we will not in any way limit or change our deployment plans in Europe."
Read Medvedev's full statement after the jump:
The State Department announced today that it would stop fulfilling its obligations under the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty with respect to Russia, in retaliation for Russia's 2007 decision to stop honoring that treaty altogether.
"This announcement in the CFE Treaty's implementation group comes after the United States and NATO allies have tried over the past four years to find a diplomatic solution following Russia's decision in 2007 to cease implementation with respect to all other 29 CFE States," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "Since then, Russia has refused to accept inspections and ceased to provide information to other CFE Treaty parties on its military forces, as required by the treaty."
The treaty, which was signed at the very end of the Cold War in 1990, was meant to impose limits on key categories of conventional weapons placed in Europe by NATO and Russia.
Russia suspended its observance of the CFE treaty in 2007: It claimed that NATO enlargement had resulted in the organization breaching treaty limits, objected to NATO member states' efforts to link the treaty to a Russian troop presence in Georgia and Moldova, and argued that U.S. missile defense plans in Eastern Europe constituted a violation of the treaty.
Nuland was actually the administration's lead official on negotiating with the Russians regarding the CFE before she was named the new State Department spokeswoman. A year of U.S.-Russian negotiations on the treaty broke down last May, a month before Nuland returned to Washington. She said that the United States will continue to honor the treaty with all states, except Russia.
"We will resume full treaty implementation regarding Russia, if Russia resumes implementation of its treaty obligations," she said. "The United States remains firmly committed to revitalizing conventional arms control in Europe."
But critics on Capitol Hill said that the State Department's move is not likely to convince Russia to come back to the negotiating table or resume fulfilling its treaty obligations.
"The Obama administration has adopted a limited countermeasure that is too late and too weak.... Since Russia refuses to end its occupation of Georgia, there is little point in attempting to bring it back into compliance with its obligations under the CFE Treaty," a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable.
"Moreover, the Obama decision to continue to provide U.S. data to all other CFE Parties does not mirror Russian data denial to all parties, nor will it be effective, since Moscow will likely obtain data from several CFE parties provided by the United States. Such a move undermines effective efforts to answer noncompliance of the CFE Treaty particularly, and shows the extent to which the Obama administration lacks a credible policy in Europe."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) approval of Mike McFaul's nomination to become U.S. ambassador to Russia was delayed on Tuesday by GOP senators, but today several Republicans are coming to McFaul's aid.
A group of former GOP national security officials wrote to SFRC leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) today to express their support for the McFaul nomination, which is now facing objections from one SFRC member now and with multiple other GOP senators ready to follow suit, who will make their concerns known if and when McFaul is voted out of committee. In fact, the entire SFRC business meeting was cancelled on Tuesday amid the confusion. It was rescheduled for Nov. 29, when McFaul's nomination will finally be put before the panel.
"We have known and worked closely with Mike for many years and have the highest regard for his professionalism and his dedication to American interests and ideals. He is one of America's leading experts on democracy and has been a tireless promoter of democracy in Russia and elsewhere around the world," wrote former Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman, former Assistant Secretaries of State David Merkel and Stephen Rademaker, former NSC Director Jamie Fly, Freedom House President David Kramer, former Rumsfeld and McCain advisor Randy Scheunemann, and the Brookings Institution fellow Robert Kagan.
McFaul, who is a key architect of the Obama "reset" policy with Russia that many conservatives dislike, also has a long track record of advocating for democracy and human rights and is well positioned to press those issues in Moscow, the former officials wrote.
"His nomination has been enthusiastically supported by leading figures in the Russian political opposition. His presence there will provide a strong voice for democracy and freedom in that country and provide an open door and sympathetic ear to all elements of Russian society."
As we reported on Tuesday, the only official objection to McFaul's nomination so far is from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Corker isn't objecting to McFaul's personal qualifications for the position, but is using the nomination to press for administration assurances that the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee will be fully funded for fiscal year 2012.
"Senator Corker is working to ensure that the U.S. funds the necessary modernization of our nuclear weapons and complex as outlined by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to ensure the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent," Corker's communications director Laura Herzog told The Cable today.
Several GOP Senate offices have told The Cable that other senators want to use the McFaul nomination as leverage over the administration on a host of issues, including the current U.S.-Russia talks over missile defense cooperation, Russia's poor record on human rights, its continued occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and a perceived lack of Russian cooperation on key international issues such as confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.
For a great example of those concerns, take a look at this extensive list of questions submitted to McFaul by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), obtained by The Cable.
"The administration cannot merely wish these problems away. However, it is also in the nation's interest to get Mr. McFaul to Moscow as quickly as possible," the former officials wrote to Kerry and Lugar. "We hope the Senate and the administration will disentangle these issues so that the full Senate can approve his nomination expeditiously."
Some GOP offices are seeking more administration support for the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, which is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison exactly two years ago today. Republicans want passage of the Magnitsky bill to be the cost of repealing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which prevents Russia from getting Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status. The administration is avoiding linking Magnitsky to this trade status, and is proposing a fund to support a new democracy and human rights foundation in Russia instead. Republicans are cool on that idea.
Today, State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement criticizing Russia for not moving faster to bringing Magnitsky's killers to justice.
"Despite widely-publicized credible evidence of criminal conduct in Magnitsky's case, Russian authorities have failed to bring to justice those responsible," Toner said. "While we welcome charges against two prison officials, we will continue to call for full accountability for those responsible for Magnitsky's unjust imprisonment and wrongful death. We will continue to fully support the efforts of those in Russia who seek to bring these individuals to justice."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has delayed consideration of Michael McFaul to become the next U.S. ambassador to Russia due to objections by U.S. senators that aren't related to his personal qualifications for the position.
Two Senate sources confirmed to The Cable that the committee decided Monday not to consider the nomination of McFaul, the current National Security Council senior director for Russia, at today's committee business meeting as had been planned. In fact, early Tuesday afternoon the entire meeting was cancelled due to the McFaul objection as well as separate objections on the nominations of Roberta Jacobson to become assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador. A planned resolution giving the sense of the Senate on Libya also faced criticism, our two Senate sources said.
"Today's business meeting has been postponed due to last-minute requests to holdover several of the agenda items," SFRC spokeswoman Jennifer Berlin told The Cable.
For McFaul, two staffers have confirmed that the objection is coming from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Corker isn't objecting to McFaul's personal qualifications for the position, but is using the nomination to press for administration assurances that the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee will be fully funded for fiscal year 2012. Corker also wants assurances over funding for nuclear warhead life-extension programs, which were part of the deal the administration struck with Congress during the debate over the New START nuclear reductions agreement with Russia.
Other GOP senators want to use the McFaul nomination to press the administration on a host of issues, including the current U.S.-Russia talks over missile defense cooperation, Russia's poor record on human rights, its continued occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and a perceived lack of Russian cooperation on key international issues, such as confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.
"Objections have been raised by enough Republicans to warrant holding [McFaul] over until the next business meeting. Likely, strong concerns over administration negotiations with Moscow over missile defense play a large role in taking him off the business meeting agenda," one Senate Republican committee staffer said. "It may be the case Mr. McFaul is not confirmed, given the weight of these concerns."
Another staffer for a committee member said today that further objections to McFaul's nomination would probably come during floor consideration, because they would be raised by Republicans not on the committee. The objections have little to do with McFaul himself, who is generally liked and well-respected by the GOP, in part due to his decades of activism on democracy and human rights.
"He's about as good of a nominee as Republicans can expect from this administration, but there is a huge gap between the administration and the GOP about how the ‘reset' with Russia is going," said this staffer. "Republicans will use his nomination to air their concerns about a range of issues. That's just how it is."
The committee will likely have only one more business meeting this year, and it is unclear whether the administration will get McFaul a hearing on the next agenda.
Meanwhile, the State Department, aware of the potential problems with the McFaul nomination, sent around a fact sheet yesterday to Senate offices, which was obtained by The Cable, seeking to assuage senators' concerns about U.S.-Russia missile defense cooperation discussions. One GOP Senate aide reacted to the fact sheet by telling The Cable, "If the administration thinks this is what constitutes giving Congress access to information about the negotiations, they are sorely mistaken."
Some GOP offices also wanted Kerry to add a bill to penalize Russia for its treatment of human rights lawyers and activists to today's business meeting agenda. The legislation, called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison in 2009. The bill targets his captors, as well as any other Russian officials "responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights."
Republicans want passage of the Magnitsky bill to be the cost of repealing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which currently prevents Russia from getting Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status. Without PNTR, U.S. businesses will be disadvantaged when Russia joins the WTO later this year. The administration is avoiding linking Magnitsky to this trade status, and is proposing a fund to support a new democracy and human rights foundation in Russia instead. Republicans are cool on that idea.
Meanwhile, we've confirmed that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is objecting to the Jacobson nomination, and we're told that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is holding up the Aponte nomination.
The Georgian government accepted a Swiss proposal this morning that would pave the way for Georgia to sign off on Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization. But will the Russians take the deal?
"We told the Russians that we accept this proposal and we told them this is the moment of truth," Sergi Kapanadze, Georgia's deputy foreign minister and the lead Georgian negotiator, told The Cable in a phone interview from Switzerland on Thursday.
He said the proposal was Georgia's final offer and, if Russia wants to proceed with its WTO accession on schedule, it will have to accept the Swiss terms.
"It's quite obvious the text cannot change. We have exhausted the creativity, this addresses the red lines of both sides," Kapanadze said.
Without Georgian agreement, Russia can't join the WTO, which has always admitted members based on the unanimous consensus of existing members. The talks had been stymied due to a disagreement over how the flow of goods between Russia and Georgia would be monitored, and how any disputes over monitoring between the two countries would be adjudicated. The deal does not address the political status of the disputed territories of Abkhasia and South Ossetia.
The latest Swiss proposal -- the one the Georgians have accepted -- represents a compromise on both points. It stipulates that monitoring on the Russia-Georgia border would be done by a private company chosen by either the Swiss or the EU. The Russians had wanted to choose the company, while the Georgians had wanted the monitoring to be done by an international organization, not a private firm. Right now, only Russian personnel monitor the borders.
Any disputes over the customs monitoring would go to third-party arbitration, according to the Swiss deal. The Russians had wanted disputes to go to a process of non-binding "conciliation." The Georgians had wanted disputes to be adjudicated within the WTO, a body they trust. The arbitration scheme is a compromise between those positions, Georgia's National Security Adviser Giga Bokeria told The Cable in an interview from Tbilisi.
"All the major principles are there, it's up to the Russians to say yes," Bokeria said. "They haven't said yes, they haven't said no."
The Russian embassy did not respond to requests for comment. Maxim Medvedkov, Russia's chief negotiator, told Bloomberg News today that Russia will need "several days to give an answer."
Georgia had been set to play the spoiler to Russia's long-held ambition to join the WTO. Russian forces still occupy the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Russia has failed to live up the agreements that concluded the 2008 Russia-Georgia war by removing its forces from Georgia territory.
But Georgia was pressured from outside sources, such as the European Union, to make a deal. The Obama administration has maintained that it would not pressure Georgia to accept Russia into the WTO, but the matter was discussed during Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns' visit to Georgia last week.
Sam Charap, director for the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for American Progress, said the deal is potentially workable because it doesn't favor either side's position on the political status of the disputed territories, and allows for enforcement of trade rules that will open up the Russian market to Georgian goods.
"It's a big step forward. It seems like a pretty status-neutral outcome," Charap said. "At the end of the day everyone, including Georgia, benefits from Russia being in the WTO."
He also noted that by announcing the deal publicly, the Georgians are effectively turning the screws on Russia to take the deal.
"It does certainly put the pressure on the Russians, and they look like they are being obstinate now if they don't accept what's on the table," said Charap.
The Atlantic Council's Executive Vice President Damon Wilson, who recently released a report on Georgia's integration with the West, said that the Russians could have easily solved the dispute but set initially terms that were unfair to Georgia.
"This whole issue didn't have to become so politicized," Wilson said. "If Russia really wanted to get into WTO without humiliating Georgia in the process, they could have made a deal quietly and a long time ago."
Mike McFaul, the National Security Council senior director for Russia, will testify before senators this afternoon and say that that the Obama administration's "reset" policy with Russia is working and that Congress must terminate an antiquated law that prevents full and normalized trade relations with Moscow.
McFaul is nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Moscow. Although several GOP senators have serious concerns about the reset policy and are critical of what they see as Obama's concessions to Russia, McFaul is expected to be confirmed. In his testimony this afternoon before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he will argue for the repeal of what's known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a 1974 legal provision that punished the Soviet Union for restricting Jewish emigration, and which continues to prevent the United States from granting Russia permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status.
"In order for U.S. businesses, farmers and workers to receive the maximum benefit from Russia's WTO accession ... we will need to give the same unconditional permanent normal trading relations treatment to Russia's goods that we provide to those of all other WTO members," McFaul will say in his opening statement, obtained in advance by The Cable. "That commitment requires us to terminate the application of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and extend permanent normal trading relations to Russia."
WTO membership for Russia is a key goal of Obama's reset policy and the administration has been working hard behind the scenes to help Moscow finalize its bid. But several senior Republican lawmakers want to keep Jackson-Vanik in place to keep the pressure on Russia and prevent further backsliding on democratization, human rights, and respect for the rule of law.
McFaul will testify that the administration wants to terminate Jackson-Vanik before Russia joins WTO. Russia could win membership as early as December, if they are able to strike a deal with Georgia. The WTO typically only accepts new members by consensus. The agreement between the two nations would likely have to do with international customs monitoring along the Russia-Georgia border, which is currently run by the Russian military. The Obama administration said it's not involved in the Russia-Georgia negotiations, but at other times officials have admitted that it is.
Either way, it's unclear how the administration plans to convince intransigent GOP leaders, such as House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), to abandon their opposition to granting Russia PNTR status, much less before December.
But the Obama administration has decided to make the termination of Jackson-Vanik a jobs issue, thus placing the GOP in the position of being against American workers.
"Four decades after Jackson-Vanik was passed, a vote to grant Russia PNTR is a vote to help our economy and create jobs," McFaul will say. "At a time when we need to increase exports to preserve and create American jobs, we cannot afford to put our farmers, manufacturers, and workers at a disadvantage when competing against other WTO members for market share in Russia."
Support in both parties is strong for McFaul's ambassador nomination, despite that he is a key architect of the reset policy that many Republicans oppose. McFaul has a long track record as a democracy advocate, and unlike most other top administration officials, he has maintained close and longstanding relationships with leaders on the GOP side of the aisle.
McFaul often engages with a wide range of people in the broader policy community, meets with administration critics and even meets with representatives from countries he doesn't cover, such as European officials who have an interest in U.S.-Russia relations.
McFaul's attitude and relationships have bought him a measure of credibility and support from the GOP. Several typically hawkish Russia experts have been lobbying GOP senators on behalf of McFaul's nomination. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), had threatened to hold the nomination, but now that hold is not expected to materialize.
"People have a lot of respect for Mike. Everybody knows that is a very passionate supporter of democracy," said Bob Kagan, a Brookings Institution scholar who co-authored a Washington Post op-ed in support of the nomination with Freedom House's David Kramer. "He's got a long reputation, good contacts, and he's part of a larger pro-democracy community, so the opposition in Russia will feel like it has somebody they can talk to, which isn't always the case."
Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Dan Burton (R-IN) have started a new congressional caucus to increase engagement with Russia and to push for action to promote Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Meeks and Burton, the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, started the Congressional Russia Caucus last month after returning from a trip to Moscow. They are the only two members of the caucus, just yet, but they're canvassing for new members now. They plan to build connections with Russian officials, increase legislative exchanges with the Russian Duma, and advocate for the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a 1974 U.S. law that prevents the United States from granting Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status.
"When you think about Russia, they are an important nation in an important part of the world. And we have to make sure we begin to work with them in a post-Cold War way," Meeks told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.
Meeks said he has been coordinating with the Obama administration, which is supporting Russia's WTO bid as part of its overall effort to reset relations with Russia.
"The administration was very appreciative of us starting this caucus; they thought it was a good idea. They said they looked forward to working with us," Meeks said.
Both Meeks and Burton said they were encouraged to start the caucus after meeting with American businessmen and members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow. Both denied they had benefited financially as a result of their efforts on behalf of the U.S.-Russia relationship.
"We want to engage Russians on economics and trade affairs," Burton said in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Regarding the repeal of Jackson-Vanik, Burton said, "That's something that the Congress has to do for the U.S. to get all the benefits of Russia joining the WTO. If that doesn't happen, Russia would be entitled to all its benefits [as a WTO member] but the U.S. would be disadvantaged."
Russia's accession to the WTO and the repeal of Jackson-Vanik "would be good for Russia and the world," Burton said.
Burton's position on Russian accession to the WTO and Jackson-Vanik puts him in direct opposition to his own committee chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who said in July that repeal of Jackson-Vanik was impossible. And she's no fan of Russia's once-and-future president, Vladimir Putin.
"Putin's present-day Russia is taking on a more Stalin-era appearance every day," Ros-Lehtinen said in July. "The administration must end its string of concessions to the regime in Moscow, which have not resulted in increased cooperation with the U.S. or an improvement in Russia's human rights record."
Meeks and Burton both also said that they could use the caucus to press Russia toward more progress on democratization, human rights, and respect for the rule of law.
"We do care about those things. What we're going to do is open a dialogue on all these things so we can move in the right direction," Burton said.
The foreign minister of Georgia told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Georgia can't consent to Russia joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), if Russia doesn't agree to international monitors on the Russian-Georgian border.
Clinton met with Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze on Monday morning for about 25 minutes in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. The bulk of that meeting was spent discussing the Swiss effort to mediate between Russia and Georgia over the former's application to join the WTO, a major goal of the U.S.-Russia reset policy, a senior State Department official said.
No country has been admitted to the WTO without the consensus of all existing members and the Obama administration has been pressing both sides to strike a deal that would allow Georgia to support Russia's bid.
"As she did with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov last week, Secretary [Clinton] urged Foreign Minister Vashadze to make the most of the Swiss mediation proposal and to try to make progress to close the gaps when the delegations meet in the next week and a half," the official said.
Giga Bokeria, Georgia's national security advisor, was also inside the meeting between Clinton and Vashadze. He told The Cable in an interview today that, while the Georgian government appreciates and agrees with the Obama administration's emphasis on the Swiss process, which was initiated because Russia and Georgia severed diplomatic relations after their 2008 war, Moscow has shown no signs of moving toward Tbilisi's basic demands. Thus, Georgia is not yet willing to support Russia's WTO accession.
"The Obama administration is urging all parties to compromise. We are doing that; the Russians are not. It's up to the Russians, either they want to compromise or they don't," he said. "The process exists, but as it stands there will be no Georgian consent. The ball is in Russia's court."
Georgia wants international monitors stationed as customs officers on the borders between Russia and the Russian-occupied Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, borders currently manned by Russian troops. We're told that the Russians have thus far refused to agree to allow independent monitors on that border.
Russia is also insisting that any agreement with Georgia not be included in its actual WTO accession agreement, so that Georgia would not be able to use the WTO dispute resolution mechanisms to enforce the agreement. The Georgians are demanding the right to use the WTO to enforce any agreement with Russia.
"Unfortunately, what we see at the moment is that Russia is completely inflexible to find a reasonable compromise in terms of transparency along the Russian-Georgian border," Bokeria said.
"We just want to reach a meaningful compromise to achieve transparency through international monitoring," he added, pointing out there is no precedent for a country joining the WTO without consensus from all WTO members.
Bokeria also commented on the recent announcement that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intend to swap jobs for next year's election in Russia. But he said he doesn't anticipate any big changes in Russian foreign policy.
"It was clear throughout this time that Prime Minister Putin was in charge. The Russian policy toward Georgia and its other neighbors has not changed and unfortunately there's no sign it will change in the immediate future," he said. "It will be aggressive as it was."
"For some analysts who had some illusions that there was some internal struggle, that we always thought were unserious, this is an eye opener now," said Bokeria. "It's an insult to Russian citizens the way this has been presented to them."
One of the "analysts" who believed that Medvedev and Putin were locked in an internal struggle for control of Russia's government was Vice President Joseph Biden, who argued last year that the New START arms control agreement was key to strengthening Medvedev against Putin.
"Medvedev has rested everything on this notion of a reset. Who knows what Putin would do? My guess is he would not have gone there [in terms of committing to the reset], but maybe," Biden said.
That's quite different from the White House's message this week, which claims the Obama administration knew all along that Putin was in control.
"Everyone knows that Putin runs Russia," a U.S. official told the New York Times this week. "Remembering this obvious fact means that Putin has supported the reset with the U.S."
Russia's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who served under President Putin, apparently had it right in an interview last November with Foreign Policy, when he described the Medvedev-Putin relationship as that between "a boss and senior assistant who temporarily occupies the position of president of the country."
When asked if he thought Putin would run for president in 2012, Kasyanov said, "I wouldn't say ‘run,' just step in."
A top Russian official today called Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) "radicals" and "monsters of the Cold War" and warned that the U.S.-Russia relationship would collapse if Republicans came to power.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, met with Kyl and Kirk yesterday in Washington -- but they probably won't be meeting again anytime soon. After the meeting, Rogozin let loose on the senators in an extensive interview with the Russian news service RIA Novosti, and sought to warn the Russian public of what he sees as the dangers of a return to Republican rule in America.
Rogozin accused the two senators of threatening to scuttle the U.S.-Russia reset by stalling or attacking U.S.-Russian cooperation on several issues, such as nuclear arms control and missile defense.
"Today in the Senate, I met with Senators Jon Kyl and Mark Kirk. The meeting is very useful because it shows that the alternative to Barack Obama is a collapse of all the programs of cooperation with Russia," he said. "Today, I had the impression that I was transported in a time machine back several decades, and in front of me sat two monsters of the Cold War, who looked at me not through pupils, but targeting sights."
Rogozin also warned that Russia cannot afford to deepen its ties with the United States given the GOP's current position, because doing so would put its security at risk if the Republicans came back to power.
"[E]ither we will achieve some sort of deeper cooperation in the military and political spheres that will allow us to pass ‘the point of no return' in our relationship, so no one could reverse this partnership, or we do not -- then today's thaw known as ‘the reset' will be swept aside and the ferocious winter will come," he said.
Rogozin, however, didn't mention that it is the Russian government that is threatening the Obama administration with scuttling the reset because of a bill that targets Russian human rights violators, and he scoffed at Kirk's mention of a report that Russia was involved in the bombing of the U.S. embassy compound in Tbilisi.
Rogozin praised the White House for improving U.S.-Russian relations, and called for further cooperation in the future.
Rogozin's remarks to the Russian media were starkly different from his readout of the Kyl-Kirk meeting on his English language twitter feed, where he tweeted, "It is with specially (sic) warm feelings that I remember my meeting in the Senate."
He tweeted that Kirk declared his support for U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation and that Kirk admitted he secretly supports the U.S.-Russia reset policy.
"I also liked [Kirk's] confession that deep in his heart he's an ardent advocate of the reset policy of relations with Russia," Rogozin tweeted, "although he has been compelled not to disguise this fact for some time. I thank Comrade Kirk for his position!"
"Comrade Kirk," in an interview with The Cable, shot back at Rogozin and said that frankly, he's not too concerned about Russia's views on U.S. missile defense plans one way or the other.
"You could say that we're just not that into him," Kirk said. "In a potential missile combat scenario between NATO and Iran, Russia is thoroughly irrelevant. So Russian concerns about what we do and not do about the Iranian threat are interesting but largely irrelevant."
Regarding Rogozin's comment that Kirk and Kyl were "radicals" and "monsters of the Cold War," Kirk said, "He should probably moderate his caffeine intake."
"I would like to have good relations with Russia and there are areas where we should cooperate," Kirk said. "But he requested the meeting and then blasted us in the press. I would never have done that."
Rozogin, a former Russian parliamentarian and a well-known rabble rouser, also met with a host of administration officials on his visit to Washington, including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, NSC Senior Director for Russia Michael McFaul, NSC Senior Director for Nonproliferation Gary Samore, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Philip Gordon, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs James Cartwright, NORAD Chief Commander Adm. James Winnefeld, and Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. General Patrick O'Reilly.
Rogozin had nothing but praise for Donilon in the RIA Novosti interview.
"Tom Donilon is a veteran U.S. diplomat and politician, who began his career in 1977. I was pleased to meet with this distinguished man in the U.S. establishment. He is a smart, attentive person on whom you can rely in terms [of] preparing important decisions," he said. "This meeting was the most enjoyable."
Russia has threatened the Obama administration that it will end cooperation on Iran and prevent the transfer of material to Afghanistan if Congress passes a law criticizing Russian human rights practices.
The White House argues that the U.S.-Russian "reset" of relations has had three positive results: the New START nuclear reductions treaty, Moscow's cooperation in sanctioning Iran, and approval (for a price) for U.S. military goods to transit Russian territory on the way to Afghanistan. But Russia is now using two of those three points as leverage to pressure the administration to get Congress not to pass a bill that would ban visas for Russian officials implicated in human rights crimes.
The legislation, called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison in 2009. The bill targets his captors, as well as any other Russian officials "responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights."
The administration admitted the Russian threats in its official comments on the bill, obtained by the The Cable.
"Senior Russian government officials have warned us that they will respond asymmetrically if legislation passes," the document stated. "Their argument is that we cannot expect them to be our partner in supporting sanctions against countries like Iran, North Korea, and Libya, and sanction them at the same time. Russian officials have said that other areas of bilateral cooperation, including on transit Afghanistan, could be jeopardized if this legislation passes."
"The Russian Duma has already proposed legislation that would institute similar travel bans and asset freezes for U.S. officials whose actions Russia deems in violations of the rights of Russian citizens arrested abroad and brought to the United States for trial," the administration said. "We have no way to judge the scope of these actions, but note that other U.S. national security interests will be affected by the passage of the S. 1039."
The Washington Post first reported the existence of the administration's comments today and led with the news that the State Department has quietly put Russian officials connected with the Magnitsky killing on a visa blacklist.
The blacklist appears to be a way for the administration to preempt further legislation. "Secretary Clinton has taken steps to ban individuals associated with the wrongful death of Sergey Magnitskiy from traveling to the United States. The Administration, therefore, does not see the need for this additional legislation," the administration said in its comments.
But in fact, the current bill no longer just includes officials connected to the Magnitsky case. The Senate version of the bill includes officials connected to a range of human rights cases in Russia, including the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an imprisoned Russian dissident.
The main sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), said in an interview today with The Cable that he was now working to address the administration's concerns and he was not sure when the bill would see a committee markup or floor consideration.
"I'm working with the administration, working with the committee, and working with my fellow senators to determine how to proceed," he said. "Two things can change strategy: One is what happens in Russia, one is what happens in the State Department. Both are fluid at this point."
Meanwhile, the administration has another problem with the reset -- it must find a way to get Congress to repeal the 1974 "Jackson-Vanik" law, which was imposed to penalize the Soviet Union for its treatment of Jewish emigrants. That law stands in the way of designating Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, which is part of Moscow's bid to join the WTO.
NSC Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul, the administration's nominee for ambassador to Moscow, told The New Republic last month that he was open to the idea of some new law to pressure Russia on human rights as a replacement for Jackson-Vanik.
"Jackson-Vanik is an outdated mechanism," he said. "Let's have an updated mechanism that is more appropriate for 2011."
It's extremely doubtful that the GOP-led House would grant Russia PNTR status no matter what, meaning that the Magnitsky Act's value as a bargaining chip may be minimal. Either way, it's clear that the Obama administration places great value on maintaining the gains of the reset and doesn't want anything to get in the way.
"One of the core foreign policy objectives when we came into office was the Russia reset," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters in May."It has been one of the most productive relationships for the United States."
President Barack Obama is set to meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvdev on May 26 in France on the sidelines of the G-8 meetings. In advance of that meeting, Congress has unveiled a new bill to force the administration to sanction Russian officials for human rights violations.
"One of the core foreign policy objectives when we came into office was the Russia reset," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call on Friday. "It has been one of the most productive relationships for the United States in terms of the signing and ratification of the New START treaty, cooperation on nuclear security, cooperation with regard to Iran sanctions and nonproliferation generally, the northern distribution network into Afghanistan that supports our effort there, and our discussions with Russia about expanding trade ties and their interest in joining the WTO, as well as Russia's increased cooperation with NATO that was manifested by the NATO-Russia meetings in Lisbon."
But Rhodes didn't mention what most in Congress see as Russia's backsliding on issues of democracy, freedom of the press, and human rights. A large group of senators introduced a bill on Thursday afternoon that they hope will force the administration to address this issue. Called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, it is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison in 2009. The bill targets his captors as well as any other Russian officials "responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights."
"Despite occasional rhetoric from the Kremlin, the Russian leadership has failed to follow through with any meaningful action to stem rampant corruption or bring the perpetrators of numerous and high-profile human rights abuses to justice," Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) said in a Thursday floor statement announcing the bill.
"My legislation simply says that if you are commit gross violations of human rights, don't expect to visit Disneyland, Aspen, or South Beach and expect your accounts to be frozen if you bank with us."
The bill requires the secretary of State to compile a list of names of human rights abusers in Russia, deny them visas, and requires the secretary of Treasury to do the same and freeze their bank accounts. The legislation would also bar their wives, sons, daughters, and other immediate family members from coming to the United States. The hope is that this legislation would spur similar action from the European Union.
The bill also outlines abuses by Russian officials in the treatment of several other Russian political prisoners, including Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose appeal to his 14-year jail sentence was postponed this week by a Moscow court.
Other co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tom Udall (D-NM), Roger Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).
Last month, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) reintroduced the House version of The Magnitsky Act, which "imposes visa and economic sanctions on Russian state officials who are responsible for human rights abuses, torture and the death in custody of Sergei Magnitsky in November 2009."
The Obama administration hasn't commented publicly on the bill, but The New Republic reported that NSC Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul is supportive. "We actually agree with those in Congress who are concerned about the erosion of democracy in Russia," he told TNR, adding, "It was bad when we got here, but it is bad today."
The bill could also be a substitute for the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was put in place in the 1970s to punish Russia for its treatment of Jewish would-be emigrants, but now stands in the way of Russia's accession to the WTO.
Kirk told The Cable in a Friday interview that this bill was one part of a larger effort in Congress to reassert itself on the issues of democracy and human rights in Russia.
"It's needed because Russia has slowly devolved into a one party state with a very strong ruler, and that leads to arrogance and a very aggressive anti-U.S. foreign policy, which is becoming increasing difficult to deal with," he said. And who was he referring to? "The real ruler of Russia: Putin."
A group of Georgians was fired upon on Wednesday at the boundary line between Georgia and the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, the first clash there since March 2009. The details of the melee are disputed by the two sides.
A top Georgian official told The Cable that about 15 civilians were roaming around the forest near the boundary line collecting food when uniformed troops, whom he claimed were Russian soldiers, opened fire when the Georgians attempted to flee. The official said that two citizens were wounded and four civilians were arrested during the incident. One 17-year-old boy was shot in the stomach and is in serious condition. An older man was lightly wounded. The rest of the party managed to escape.
"There is a plant that is used as food and 15 people went to gather that plant in the forest, from age 12 to age 30. They came across a Russian border patrol and the Russians asked them to surrender," Shota Utiashvili, spokesman for Georgia's Interior Ministry, told The Cable in a phone interview from Tbilisi. "That's in contradiction with the agreement that we have with Russia, which states that they should be warned and released, not detained and shot at."
The security service of the South Ossetian administrative body disputed the Georgian account, claiming that the guards were South Ossetian, not Russian -- and that the 15 civilians in question were, in fact, armed.
"At the time of the arrest unidentified persons opened fire at the South Ossetian border guards with a goal to free detained persons. A response fire was opened, as a result attackers scattered and hid on the territory of Georgia," they said in a statement.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi is preparing to issue the following statement, obtained in advance by The Cable:
"The United States embassy is concerned by reports of a violent incident along the administrative boundary line with South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region. We urge all parties to exercise restraint in the wake of the incident, to share fully all details with the European Union Monitoring Mission and to participate as soon as possible in an ad hoc meeting of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism. This incident highlights the ongoing need for EUMM access to both sides of the administrative boundary line."
The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) does not currently have access to those arrested and is not able to travel into South Ossetia; it has not issued a statement at this time.
For the Georgians, the incident highlights the problem of the regional status quo, whereby Russia maintains de facto control of the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but doesn't have diplomatic or legal responsibilities there.
"The Russians say ‘we have nothing to do with this, this is the independent South Ossetian government.' But this is a typical thing, they can always hide behind the so-called South Ossetian state," Utiashvili said.
"We need a more concerted Western effort, that's the only way to avoid more escalation and more violence. What's important is that the Russians see that these things don't go unnoticed."
Back in Washington, several U.S. senators are trying to push for greater U.S. involvement in the Russian-Georgian dispute over the territories. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has been warning through reports about the de facto U.S. ban on selling arms to Georgia and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate "that it is the policy of the United States to support the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Georgia and the inviolability of its borders, and to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as regions of Georgia occupied by the Russian Federation."
In an interview with The Cable, Shaheen said she would continue to push for U.S. involvement in mediating the conflict as well as more defense cooperation between the United States and Georgia.
"Georgia is an important ally in a tough neighborhood. The United States should continue to strongly support Georgia's sovereignty, to support non-military efforts to restore Georgia's territorial integrity, to reject any claims of spheres of influence in the region, and emphasize that all nations should be free to enter into alliances and relationships as they see fit," she said. "A prosperous, stable and secure Caucasus region is in all of our interests -- including those of Georgia, Russia, and the United States."
UPDATE: Sen. Shaheen mentioned our story and the incident at Wednesday afternoon's hearing with Assistant Secretary of State Phil Gordon. In his response, Gordon criticized Russian activity in the disputed territories and called for Russia to live up to its related international commitments.
"It is precisely this sort of incident that happened today that underscores why we are so concerned about the unresolved situation in Georgia. You are right to underscore in your resolution and just now Russia's lack of full compliance with the 2008 ceasefire," Gordon said. "Our strong view, like that of pretty much every country in the world, is to recognize Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. And the Russian military presence there, about which the Russians are not fully transparent, is a problem and can lead to just the sort of incident you mentioned, as can the lack of international observation, which is something we have pushed for for a long time."
Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher remains the top administration official in charge of missile defense negotiations with Russia despite reports to the contrary, a senior administration official told The Cable.
The Washington Times reported this week that Tauscher "was given a demotion" and no longer was serving as the lead administration official in charge of the negotiations, which are part of the bilateral working group meetings that the United States and Russia have been conducting for over a year. The same article reported that Tauscher had annoyed colleagues due to her abrasive style, and that she often referred to herself in the third person as "The Tausch." Jim Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, was now in charge, according to the report.
But that's simply not true, one senior administration official and one State Department official told The Cable. They pointed out that Tauscher is in Brussels now, meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's lead negotiator on missile defense cooperation.
"Ellen leads our team to the talks and her counterpart is Ryabkov and any contention that she has been demoted is just plain wrong," the senior administration official said.
Tauscher is in charge of diplomatic engagement with Russia on this issue and Miller is the technical expert who works with her, the official explained.
"Jim's an extremely able player on missile defense issues, and has been involved in discussions with the Russian Ministry of Defense that complement the overall talks on missile defense," the official said.
As for the accusation that Tauscher refers to herself as "The Tausch," that is apparently a nickname that was given to her by colleague and friend Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) when both served in Congress, according to the State Department official. It's a term of affection that some on Tauscher's staff have adopted, but not a nickname she is known to use herself, the official said.
The senior administration official also took issue with the Washington Times' assertion that the U.S.-Russia missile defense talks have "largely [been] kept secret from Congress and the public."
"The fact of these talks is a matter of public record -- that's not to suggest the details of the talks aren't private," the senior administration official said. "As the president has made clear, we see the possibility of missile defense with Russia as something that can serve both of our interests, it doesn't constrain us in any way."
Tauscher explained the rationale of pursuing missile defense cooperation with Russia in a speech at the Global Zero conference in Washington on April 8.
"Thirty years ago at the height of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan saw virtue in cooperating with Moscow on missile defense. We in the Obama administration do, too, because Missile Defense cooperation could make us safer and facilitate talks on further reductions on strategic, non-strategic, and non-deployed nuclear weapons," she said. "We want Russia inside the missile defense tent where it will see that missile defenses that the United States has planned to put in Europe are not about undermining Russia's strategic deterrent."
Meanwhile, the administration has been moving forward on implementing the Phased Adaptive Approach that was announced in 2009, which altered the Bush administration's plan to plant missile interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic. The latest announcement was a deal with Romania announced on May 3 to station interceptors there.
The article was written by Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz, who has written articles critical of Tauscher's bureau for months and has long drawn the ire of the State Department. As one State Department official said in January, "This particular reporter, as you know, has his own foreign policy."
25 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the United States is still paying hundreds of millions of dollars to help clean up the site.
Ukraine's Embassy in Washington has been holding a series of events to commemorate the disaster, including a conference on April 21 and an event Monday night on the embassy grounds. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, the highest ranking U.S. official at Monday's event, spoke about the ongoing effort to secure the site, which still remains dangerous a quarter-century later.
"The United States -- in concert with our G-8 partners and the international community -- remains committed to helping Ukrainians bring the damaged Chernobyl nuclear facility to an environmentally safe and secure condition," she said.
Gottemoeller said the U.S. government had already given over $240 million to help clean up the Chernobyl site and that, last week, a U.S. delegation to Ukraine led by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski pledged an additional $123 million toward completing the construction of a new confinement shelter to cover the aging sarcophagus, which was designed to block the release of radiation from the plant, and a storage facility for spent fuel at the site.
Ukraine has become a leader in nuclear safety and nuclear responsibility, she stated, through its decision to abandon nuclear weapons in 1994 and its 2010 decision to give up its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium. In return, the United States has expanded its nuclear cooperation with Ukraine, including helping the country construct a "neutron source facility" that will advance nuclear scientific and medical research.
With the world now facing a new crisis due to the partial meltdown of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, Gottemoeller emphasized that the risks of nuclear power are shared by all.
"The events at Fukushima, just like the events at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, remind us once again that nuclear safety recognizes no boundaries," she said.
In the above photo, taken at the Ukraine Embassy event, Gottemoeller is flanked by Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (left), and Ukrianian Ambassador Olexander Motsyk (right).
Jamie Mannina / State Department
The Russian blogosphere erupted this week with criticism of an apparent State Department effort to court Russian pro-democracy bloggers through the Twitter feed @StateDeptRussia. But it turns out the account was a fake, and the State Department convinced Twitter to shut it down.
"We must know the enemy in person and track his steps. Beware to the friends and the readers of this blog! Read, listen, watch @StateDeptRussia," wrote one Russian blogger about the Twitter feed, which had an official State Department logo as its avatar but did not have the blue check mark that certifies a Twitter feed is authentic.
The cached version of the now defunct feed can be found here. Written in Russian, it seemed similar to other State Department feeds around the world, mixing general U.S. policy statements with tweets offering grants to Russian bloggers who wanted to work with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
"Internet activists are changing the world, we are ready to cooperate with the young Russian bloggers," read a tweet from the account on March 19.
"We invite bloggers to cooperate in promoting democracy in Russia, the generous grants are waiting for you," read another March 25 tweet.
Alec Ross, the State Department's senior advisor for innovation, told The Cable that once the State Department became aware of the account, they asked Twitter to shut it down.
"Through our normal course of business following social media, the Department determined that it was a fake account masquerading as authentic so we alerted Twitter," he said.
Fake accounts are okay if they're advertised as such (like the very funny @MayorEmanuel) but feeds that are designed to fool the public violates Twitter's terms of service.
said part of the excitement and the risk of pushing government communications
into cyberspace was the recognition that there were opportunities for others to
abuse these tools.
"As the Department grows increasingly strong in social media spaces, we expect counter-measures from people who don't share our interests," he said.
Ross, who has over 335,000 followers, is now the State Department's top tweeter, following the departure of his cohort Jared Cohen (@jaredcohen), who is now the head of a new "think-do" tanks called Google Ideas.
The nation of Georgia is in a position to block Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), a top goal of the U.S.-Russia reset policy. The Georgians say that they are willing to strike a deal with Russia but only if Moscow abides by WTO rules on trade and customs policy, a position that would require Russian concessions in its conflict over the occupied territories, according to the president of Georgia.
Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's president, sat down for an exclusive interview with The Cable during his recent visit to Washington. He said that after lot of stalling and hand wringing, negotiations between Tbilisi and Moscow over the latter's desire to join the WTO had begun. As a WTO member, Georgia has veto power over any new additions to the organizations. Saakashvili said it was too early to tell if the Russians were negotiating in good faith or willing to make real concessions.
The Russian government refused to talk directly with Georgia for a long time and expected the United States to deliver Georgia's support for Russia's WTO accession, Saakashvili said.
"They were telling the Americans that we will make a deal with you and Georgia comes as part of the package. I heard some Russians say that it just takes one call from Vice President [Joseph] Biden to Saakashvili to convince him and make him shut up,'" the president said.
"But it's not like this and the Americans know it's not like this -- and they've done their best to clarify this to the Russians. Exactly because of that American position, finally the Russians came to the negotiating table. That's already great progress."
Obama administration officials have made it clear that Washington won't become involved in WTO negotiations between Russia and Georgia. The first round of those talks took place in the city of Bern with Swiss mediation earlier this month. The next round is scheduled to begin in May. Saakashvili said that Georgia was willing to be flexible but that the initial Russian proposals, which only dealt with Georgian exports to Russia, were not constructive.
"Some Russians were saying ‘we'll let back in your wine and you will change your position.'" Saakashvili said. "We don't have any wine left to sell to the Russians. That's not the bargaining chip. We need transparency of border transactions and customs issues. That's where we need to find mutually acceptable solutions with the Russians."
Of course, one huge problem is how to define the Georgian-Russian border. For Tbilisi, that includes the borders between Russia and the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it considers breakaway republics. Russia has recognized the territories as independent states and has troops stationed in both regions.
"It's up to the Russians to show that they can go to flexible and compromise solutions," Saakashvili said. "Russians have said we can get [WTO membership] without Georgia. Good luck. Let them try. But Georgia is not going to compromise our principles."
Saakashvili also said that he is willing to limit the negotiations to the economic arena, leaving aside contentious political issues, such as Russia's failure to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire that ended the 2008 conflict. But he doubted the Russian government could keep the two issues separate.
"It would be counter-productive to go to political issues, but unfortunately [throughout the recent history of Russian-Georgia relations] Russians have turned every single economic issue into a political one. That's where we find ourselves," he said.
Saakashvili also talked about Georgia's desire to start buying defensive weapons from the United States. There has been an unofficial, unstated ban on selling heavy weapons to Georgia, a ban Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) have often complained about.
"It's not in our interest to leave a stalwart partner, a NATO-aspirant country, without the needs to properly defend itself," McCain said at Tuesday's SASC hearing.
Saakashvili said he takes the administration at its word that there is no ban on weapons sales to Georgia and that some sales of small arms are "in the pipeline." But he added that Georgia really needs heavier weapons that could be used to defend the country in the case of another conflict with Russia.
"We don't' really need small arms, we have plenty of them and actually there are many alternative sources to shop for them," he said. "What Georgia really needs is something that it cannot get from anywhere else and that's anti-air and anti-tank [weapons] and that's completely obvious ... that's where should be the next stage of the cooperation."
Georgia has been striving to prove its value as a U.S. ally in a tumultuous region. Georgia has over 1,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan in some of the most dangerous areas in the South of Afghanistan and Saakashvili offered to send more troops in his March meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, he said.
The U.S. is also investing in Georgia. Saakashvili highlighted that the U.S. military is increasing its involvement on the ground in Georgia, for example by opening a $100 million U.S. Army Medical Research lab in Tbilisi as part of the Nunn-Lugar initiative.
Saakashvili said that the United States still must lead in supporting emerging democracies and use its moral authority and soft power to push for human rights and democratic change in countries with oppressive governments.
"This administration has been holding the line, at the U.N. Security Council, at the OSCE, at the arms control talks. American was the first major power to call a spade a spade, to call Russia's action in Georgia a military occupation. This moral support is paramount for any nation and these kind of things count," he said.
"This ultimately will make the whole process of advancing freedom irreversible."
Vice President Joseph Biden and Dr. Jill Biden just arrived in Finland in what is the highest-ranking visit by a U.S. official to Helsinki since the Clinton administration.
The Bidens, who arrived three hours late due to bad weather in Washington, were greeted at the tarmac by Bruce Oreck, U.S. ambassador to Finland (and vacuum cleaner magnate); Mika Rossi, state secretary in the prime minister's office; Ann-Marie Nyroos, foreign policy adviser to the president; Pekka Lintu, the Finnish ambassador to the United States; Mikko Jokelo, chief of protocol; and Anja Laisi, deputy chief of protocol. The Bidens brought granddaughter Finnegan along for the trip.
On Monday night, the Bidens will meet with the U.S. embassy staff in Helsinki and tour the city. The vice president is scheduled to meet with Finnish President Tarja Halonen on Tuesday, and then have a working lunch with Finnish Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi and greet Speaker of the Parliament Sauli Niinistö.
"The last visit by a U.S. president or vice president to Finland was President Clinton in March of 1997," said Biden's top national security advisor Tony Blinken. "And we thought it was past time to return to acknowledge the vitality and strength of our relationship."
Clinton visited Helsinki in 1997 for a summit on military and economic issues with then Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
On the agenda for Biden's short stopover in Finland is the situation in Afghanistan, where Finland has 200 soldiers deployed. Biden also plans to talk about U.S.-EU relations. Finland is also a leader in green technologies, always a subject the vice president is keen to discuss.
Biden also happens to be in Finland on the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.
"It's really a fitting place to be, because Finland has played a lead role in promoting global efforts to advance women's issues," Blinken said, noting that both the Finnish president and prime minister are women.
After Finland, Biden will travel to Russia, where World Trade Organization and missile defense will top the agenda. Following that, he will travel on to Moldova before returning to Washington later this week.
Three years after the war between Russian and Georgia, the two countries have started a process to discuss Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization, top White House officials said. However, the U.S. government is not involved in those discussions.
Russia's bid to join the WTO this year will be at the top of the agenda when Vice President Joseph Biden travels to Moscow next week. The Obama administration strongly supports Russia's entry and sees U.S. assistance in that regard as part of the reset of U.S.-Russia relations. But Georgia, a WTO member, can single-handedly thwart Russia's accession. And while the White House sees some progress between the two foes, they don't want to be any part of that conversation.
"We have worked very closely with our Russian counterparts... to help them in the multilateral process so they can meet their goal of joining the WTO this year," NSC Senior Director for Russia Michael McFaul told reporters on a conference call Friday.
Responding to a question from The Cable, McFaul acknowledged that Russia cannot join the WTO unless Georgia agreed but said he saw movement on that front.
"There are definitely issues remaining between Russia and Georgia regarding trade relations that have to be addressed," he said. "There is a process underway. I don't want to prejudge it because we're not involved in it."
But McFaul was firm that the United States would not insert itself into the effort to help Russia and Georgia come to an agreement on the issue.
"We're not going to do that," he said. "At the end of the day this is a bilateral issue, not a trilateral issue."
Some insiders believe that this message from the Obama administration is meant to push both the Russian and Georgian governments to make a deal on WTO without depending on U.S. incentives or pressures to get it done. Regardless, McFaul said that he believed Georgia was willing to limit the discussions to "deal specifically with the economic and trade issues involved and not make it into a larger debate."
So what does Georgia want from Russia? Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri spelled it out in an exclusive interview with The Cable.
"Georgia's support to Russia's WTO membership is conditional. The precondition is fulfillment of obligation taken by Russia in our bilateral accession protocol in 2004 and solving issues of customs administration on the Georgian-Russian border," he said. "Unregulated illegal trade as it takes place now is counter WTO rules. Russia should become member of this rules-based organization but only if it respects trade rules."
Of course, one huge problem is how to define the "Georgian-Russian border." If you are Georgia, that includes the borders between Russia and the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it considers breakaway republics.
When Biden meets with Russian leaders next week, he can tell them that the administration is intent on repealing trade restrictions under the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was imposed in 1974 to pressure the Soviet Union to allow Jewish emigration.
"We plan to terminate the application of Jackson-Vanik in the near future," McFaul said.
However, lifting the law requires the support of Congress, so the White House can't count on it being done right away. "It's not something the White House can't simply press a button and have it done," added Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken.
Biden will arrive in Russia on March 9. He will stop by the U.S. embassy for lunch with U.S. business leaders, and then take those businessmen on a tour of Skolkovo, Russia's new "Silicon Valley." That evening he'll meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. On March 10, Biden will meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, then with civil society leaders, and then give a speech at Moscow University.
After Russia's WTO bid, the top agenda item for Biden in Russia will be cooperation on missile defense. The United States has been talking to Russia about missile defense cooperation for a long time, but most in Washington are skeptical that it will ever be possible to satisfy's Russia's objections to U.S. missile defense in Europe.
"We are on the verge of trying to take an issue that used to be extremely contentious... and to try to make it an area of cooperation," said McFaul. "Without some sort of cooperation on missile defense, it will be difficult" to make progress on further reductions of nuclear stockpiles in Europe, he said.
Several reporters on the call asked McFaul and Blinken what Biden's message would be to the Russian government on the international response to the bloodshed in Libya.
"We don't want to address Libya specific questions on this call," Blinken said.
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.