Readers react to Gary Hart’s urging of patient diplomacy.
To the Editor:
It is dismaying to read that the Obama administration is “quietly adopting a new approach to its old cold war rival, the cold shoulder” (“Another Reset of Relations With Russia in Obama’s Second Term,” news article, Feb. 2). Once again, this suggests a triumph for the anti-Russian brigades that seem to occupy American foreign policy circles.
Unquestionably, there are instances in which Russia does not live up to our standards of democracy and refuses to behave as we instruct it to. But no more so than another major power, the People’s Republic of China, with which we maintain much better relations over all.
Any fair-minded analysis demonstrates that persistent and patient diplomacy with Russia will yield many more rewards than disappointments, including in venues such as Syria, where its help can be decisive.
Kittredge, Colo., Feb. 11, 2013
The writer, a former Democratic senator from Colorado, is an author, lecturer and consultant on international law and business.

Readers React
In arguing that the situation in Russia is no worse than that in China, Mr. Hart notes “instances in which Russia does not live up to our standards of democracy and refuses to behave as we instruct it to.”
Instances? A recent Freedom House report documents a series of initiatives by President Vladimir V. Putin designed to eliminate any and all potential threats to his grip on power, including increasing criminal penalties for “unsanctioned” protests, censoring and controlling the Internet, drastically expanding the definition of treason, and recriminalizing libel and slander. Arrests, arbitrary detentions and home raids targeting opposition figures are occurring on a level not seen since Soviet times.
Mr. Hart argues that Russia is not living up to “our” standards. The Russian government is not living up to its own standards under its constitution, nor is it complying with universal human rights commitments it has made.
Under the reset policy of the first term, the Obama administration looked the other way during the worst deterioration in Russia’s democracy and human rights situation since the collapse of the Soviet Union. A new approach toward Russia is desperately needed, one that places much more emphasis on contending with the problems that Mr. Putin poses to his own people and to others.
Viewing Mr. Putin as a threat to human rights and American interests should not be misrepresented as being anti-Russian. The Russian government has moved, step by step, to restrict political pluralism, hamstring the opposition and distance itself from the United States. I don’t see Mr. Hart decrying that.
President, Freedom House
Washington, Feb. 13, 2013
Russia’s engagement with our international partners, particularly the United States, is a very important element of our foreign and economic policy and needs to be further encouraged to maintain global stability. Aside from the number of international security issues that require our cooperation and a resolution in a multilateral fashion, it is very clear that the United States and Russia have the same goal: stimulating economic growth while maintaining security and stability around the globe.
However, our relationship with the United States has to be one of balance and mutual respect. As with any relationship, both sides need to accept that there are areas where closer cooperation is mutually beneficial, and others where we have different approaches. Having a constructive, long-term relationship means that we will acknowledge our disagreements honestly and stand committed to work toward solutions together.
Moscow, Feb. 14, 2013
The writer is press secretary to President Vladimir V. Putin.
As a naturalized American citizen from the former Soviet Union, I’d welcome improved relations between the United States and Russia, leading to more fruitful cooperation in world affairs. But I disagree with Mr. Hart, who blames “the anti-Russian brigades that seem to occupy American foreign policy circles” for the latest worsening of American-Russian relations.
The worsening is clearly by Vladimir V. Putin’s deliberate and cynical choice — unless we are prepared to completely ignore Russia’s internal affairs no matter how anti-democratic they become.
Mr. Putin experienced a rude awakening, discovering that he hasn’t been universally loved in Russia. He did not win the March 2012 election as easily as he had expected. And anti-Americanism has always been among the most potent weapons to mobilize the base.
So unless Mr. Hart and like-minded advocates of improving American-Russian relations are prepared to say, “yes, we do have to ignore what Mr. Putin does inside Russia as long as he cooperates with us elsewhere,” there is not much the United States can do.
Brooklyn, Feb. 13, 2013
Mr. Hart is right. The United States cannot realistically hope to have Russia as a partner where it matters to us while otherwise treating it as an adversary.
Russia is not a democracy, and its corruption is pervasive. But Russia is not more authoritarian than Saudi Arabia, where no political parties are allowed, and women have no right to vote or even to drive. The Putin rule is not crueler than the Karzai government in Afghanistan, where nearly half of detainees interviewed claim that they were tortured, and the drug trade is protected by government officials.
This is neither to praise how Russia is ruled, nor to suggest that we end America’s long friendship with Saudi Arabia and abandon Afghanistan. Rather, we need to ask ourselves whether the United States has important interests where Russian cooperation could make a difference, such as no nuclear weapons for Iran and terrorism. If so, we should not single out Moscow for harsher treatment than we give to others from whom we want and expect less. Such actions ultimately come at the expense of American national security.
Washington, Feb. 14, 2013
The writer is president and chief executive of the Center for the National Interest.
America’s antipathy to Russia dates from the exposure of czarism’s system of exiling dissidents. American sympathy for China originates from Secretary of State John Hay’s engineering of the “open door policy,” promoting equal trading opportunities with China.From the 1890s to today, with only a few exceptions, our policy makers determined to give Russia the “cold shoulder” while embracing China. It should come as no surprise that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “reset” button is getting replaced with President Obama’s “stop” button.
Almost every time Russia rebuffs us with intransigence, we renew our antipathy. Yet America excuses Chinese intransigence, however egregious.
By now it should be obvious that, as Mr. Hart suggests, “persistent and patient” diplomacy with Russia could yield rewards with our Syrian diplomacy and beyond. Likewise, a firmer hand with China might be in order.
When will America’s Russia-China relations grow up?
Normal, Ill., Feb. 13, 2013
The writers are, respectively, professor emeritus of history at Illinois State University and president emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University.
The United States and Russia are more similar than they, unfortunately, are publicly willing to admit. Countries are composed of people. American and Russian people equally value family, education and personal success, and they proudly believe that their heritage, culture and history have made significant contributions worldwide.
Bilateral dialogues that start with demands for change are destined to fail. Bilateral dialogues that seek cooperation based on common grounds will not only succeed, but will also inspire both countries to organically evolve and benefit from mutual interests.
To this day the wisest advice I’ve heard relating to Russian-American relations was offered by Nicholas Burns, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and former diplomat, who wrote, “There are times when we have to deal with the world as it is to eventually get the world we want.” Until both countries accept each other’s differences and concentrate on the way mutual cooperation can benefit each other, no long-term progress will be achieved. President Obama’s and President Dmitri A. Medvedev’s willingness to do that in Mr. Obama’s first term has led to substantial, yet little known, progress and cooperation in education, sciences, arts, health, environment, commerce, security and beyond. If that doesn’t continue, the losers will be on both sides.
New York, Feb. 13, 2013
The writer is vice president of the Russian American Foundation.
It would be nice to think that our relations with China are based on some altruistic intention to take the geopolitical high road, which would give us hope of eventually adopting the same policy with Russia. It would be nice, but it would be naïve.
Our relationship with China is based purely on economic and strategic self-preservation. The current American economy is inextricably linked with, and dependent on, that of China. China also poses the only serious global military threat that we currently face, filling the cold-war vacuum created by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Russia has neither the economic nor military leverage of its Asian neighbor. It is for these reasons, and not some political idealism, that the United States treads lightly with China, while trampling any Russian diplomatic opportunities.
Madison, Wis., Feb. 13, 2013
Eleven years ago I held a Fulbright to teach American history at Moscow State University. Spending a semester living in Moscow, I fell in love with the city and began a process of deep engagement with Russian history and culture. I’ve come to appreciate the extent to which the fear of invasion is part of the Russian DNA, a fear based on centuries of fighting off Tatar, French and German attacks. Any leader of Russia who evokes that fear can enhance his own authoritarianism. Therefore, it is counterproductive for another country to play into that narrative.
This does not mean unilateral disarmament, but it does mean cooling rhetorical excess. Our unreconstructed cold warriors reinforce arguments made by Kremlin hard-liners, and vice versa. This is not a helpful situation.
In the intervening years since living in Moscow, I’ve been deeply distressed to read about the deaths of journalists, the stifling of dissent and the increasingly anti-American rhetoric of Vladimir V. Putin. But I think that our long-term interests are best served by finding a way to negotiate the tricky terrain between being a doormat and invariably playing the role of opponent.
Laguna Beach, Calif., Feb. 13, 2013

The Writer Responds
Diplomacy is a search for common interests, not a reward for good behavior. Our common interests with Russia outweigh our many differences, and they include: chemical weapons in Syria, nuclear capabilities in North Korea and Iran, terrorism and energy security, among others. Mr. Peskov’s letter makes the same argument in less specific terms, combining these “international security issues” with shared interests in stability provided by economic growth.
Organizations such as Freedom House have the duty to focus our attention on human rights abuses. The State Department has the duty to focus on those common interests and promote them.
If men were angels, we would need no government. If nations met our standards, we would need little diplomacy. Even as we promote democracy in Russia, as we should, we must continue to perfect democracy in America, where just last fall there was widespread voter suppression and where large-scale racial and gender discrimination occurred during my lifetime.
Mr. Kramer does not mention my juxtaposition of China against Russia on the human rights scale, though Professors Davis and Trani properly do. If Russia were heavily invested in United States Treasury bonds, would our policy be somewhat more understanding?
Ms. Matthews appropriately notes the role of “unreconstructed cold warriors” in the Russian context, an antipathy that does, as she notes, provide grist for the Kremlin mill and become self-fulfilling. We may not like it, but President Vladimir V. Putin was elected by a 64 percent majority, beyond the margin of manipulation.
Despite what Mr. Lyubarsky suggests, I do not advocate ignoring Mr. Putin’s anti-democratic behavior. I do advocate holding Russia to the same standards we do other, even less democratic nations such as China.
Ms. Kirshner makes my argument much better than I did.
Kittredge, Colo., Feb. 15, 2013