Panel I of a Hearing of the House International Relations Committee-U.S.-Russia Relations

By:  Adam Schiff
Date: March 15, 2004
Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service March 18, 2004 Thursday
Copyright 2004 The Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service

March 18, 2004 Thursday







REP. HYDE: The committee will come to order. (Gavel.)

Our hearing today concerns the evolution of relations between the United States and Russia in President Putin's second term. Our countries share many interests, and our ability to cooperate will bear directly on our fortunes.

The admirable record of cooperation to date has recently come into question as President Putin has taken actions that unfortunately appear to have undermined democratic institutions, practices and guarantees in his country. Today we'll hear from two panels of very distinguished individuals on this subject. I, for one, am looking forward to what I assume will be omniscient analysis and predictions, but first I would like to directly address the question of democracy in Russia.

The mere fact that we can speak of the possibility of democracy in Russia as a reality in the present and not as some dim prospect in the hazy future is one of the many wonders of the past two decades with which we've grown familiar and which many now take for granted. However uncertain, its existence is a testament to the deep commitment to fundamental values shared by people all over the world.

The United States and the West as a whole owe an immense debt to all the men and women of Russia who have struggled to establish and defend a democracy in their country and thereby create a new era of freedom after a thousand years of autocratic rule. The benefits of that freedom, of course, are most directly felt by Russia's own citizens. But the West has benefited enormously as well. A half- century of effort by the U.S. and its allies to contain and undermine Soviet imperialism enjoyed many successes. But it was only with the advent of democracy in Russia that the Soviet empire was finally destroyed. The emergence of democracy in Russia must be counted as one of the great achievements of the past century. However, for all of its accomplishments, that democracy is not yet firmly established. The civil society on which all democracies ultimately rest remains weak; much of the legacy inherited from Russia's authoritarian past is still to be overcome; the institutions of democracy are largely untested; the habits of freedom have yet to become universal.

Given these and other concerns, the government's stated goal of creating a guided democracy, where the parameters of permitted dissent are significantly narrowed, is very troubling. Why is this our concern? Because the strengthening of Russian democracy and advancing Russia's integration into the West are unquestionably in the long-term strategic interests of the United States. These are necessary if we are to make permanent the gains we have derived from the liberation of Europe, a commitment that stretches unbroken for half a century, from the landings on the Normandy beaches to the final dissolution of the Soviet empire.

To this an even broader motivation can be added. By helping other peoples share the benefits of liberty, we demonstrate a continuing commitment to the universal principles on which our country was founded and the promise these represent to all who endure oppression. Thus, our own interests, together with our hopes for the world, argue that we should provide direct and ongoing assistance to securing democracy in Russia. If we are wise, we will focus our attention and assistance on the establishment of the prerequisites of a free and prosperous society, including the creation of a resilient civil society, the strengthening of an independent press, and the establishment of the rule of law.

Yet even as we assist Russia's democrats in their unfinished tasks, we must recognize that the building of a free society in that country can only be accomplished by the Russian people themselves. We cannot do it for them, and neither do we need to. Although there are many in this country and elsewhere who would despair of the fate of democracy in Russia, I am certainly not among them. Its course may occasionally surprise and concern us, but the ultimate destination aimed at by Russia's democrats should not be in doubt. The depth of their commitment to freedom has been demonstrated by the enormous obstacles they have already overcome. Freedom was not handed to the Russian people; they freed themselves. Lacking direct experience of liberty in their past, they nonetheless have continued to lay the foundation necessary to secure it for themselves and their countrymen, even as they have encountered the inevitable setbacks.

It is for these reasons that their efforts to strengthen democracy in their country deserve our assistance and our respect, and it is my hope that Russia's assumption of its rightful place among the free nations of the world shall prove to be a permanent one.


REP. : Mr. Schiff.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Ambassador, I want to --

REP. SHERMAN: Mr. Chairman --

REP. SCHIFF: -- thank you for your testimony today. I wanted to ask you about --

REP. SHERMAN: Mr. Schiff, I believe --

REP. : Hold on Mr. Schiff, just one second. Mr. Sherman, you have a question?

REP. SHERMAN: Yes, I thought I was here before Mr. Schiff --

REP. : I understood from staff that Mr. Schiff preceded you.

REP. SHERMAN: That may be, and I look forward to hearing his remarks. (Laughter.)

REP. SCHIFF: I thank my colleague from the San Fernando Valley. Ambassador, I wanted to ask you about once central tenet in the war on terrorism, and that is that this is essentially a war of ideas. And one of the ideas that is the battleground is the idea of democracy itself and the propagation of democracy. The president outlined a few months ago his view that propagation of democracy was a pillar of a successful war on terrorism. I think that's absolutely correct. Tony Blair, in his speech to Congress six months or a year ago outlined the spread of liberty as being essential to winning the war on terrorism, and I think he was correct. But at times I wonder whether we're moving forward or backward in that struggle. And, certainly that question has been raised many times today with respect to Russia.

I wonder if you can tell us what-what do the Russian people think of democracy? Have you seen any polling done of the Russian people and their views on democracy? It seems to me that, notwithstanding there is support in Russia, in the institutions in Russia for democratic ideals, that part of what the Russians were saying in their overwhelming vote for Putin was that they value stability and strength over greater liberty. And at the same time we see in the Middle East and in Iraq people questioning whether democracy means anarchy, it means lawlessness, or whether it means the cover that is given to the propagation of Western values and Western civilization, or even more pejoratively, Western imperialism. What are the Russians' views of democracy? Have you seen any kind of a sampling of what the Russian on the street views of this, and are we winning or losing that battle around the world right now?

MS. JONES: I believe we're winning that around the world. I think what happened in Georgia recently is a very good example of that, just one. In terms of Russia, the issue of democracy is partly that democracy is not completely-not as well understood all around the world as we understand it. Democracy does mean liberty, but it also means responsibility. And that combination is one that I think is harder to help people understand. Democracy also means a trust in rule of law, a trust in judiciary, but you can't ask people to trust a judiciary that is not as well formed as we know it.

REP. SCHIFF: If I could interrupt, I guess two specific questions. One is, have you seen any kind of polling or indication of what the Russian people think of democracy. And second, it wasn't so long ago Charlotte Beers appeared before this committee with a Madison Avenue strategy for changing the public view of America, and part and parcel of that changing public view of democracy, what constitutes democracy, that it is also responsibility. That mission doesn't seem to have gone very far. And if you can tell us both whether you have seen data on what the Russians feel about democracy, and secondly what are we doing about it?

MS. JONES: Yes, sir, there are any number of polls that discuss democracy, and various aspects of democracy, which is why it discusses all the different aspects of democracy, because it's hard to know what it is that the poll was actually getting at. But one of the most important things that we hear from Russians and that is reflected in these polls is the combination of democracy with economic prosperity, which is why we put equal emphasis on economic reform along with political reform, because it's clear that those have to go together. The development of the middle class is critical to the development of democracy.

REP. SCHIFF: When you say you're hearing this from Russians, what are you hearing? That they are equating democracy with economic improvement, or that they're making an inequation that the greater the democracy, the lesser the economic prosperity?

MS. JONES: They are equating it. They would like-if you have a Russian who is in poverty, they're saying, what has this democracy brought to us. If you have a Russian who has made it into the middle class, they are much more capable and much more willing to see that democracy is a benefit. And it's much easier, then, to bring the two together.

REP. SCHIFF: And on the whole, what is the Russian view, is democracy bringing economic prosperity, or do most Russians now feel that democracy brought them further economic degradation from the old days, and lesser prosperity?

MS. JONES: I'm not sure I can characterize it to that specificity, the goal is, and something that we work on with our programs is to increase economic prosperity because of the link that is made not just in Russian eyes, but in others, with democracy.

REP. : The gentleman's time has expired.


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