Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your convening this hearing. With next month’s summit rapidly approaching, this is a most opportune moment to examine whether U.S.-Russian relations have changed for the better.
When President Bush met Vladimir Putin for the first time, he claimed to have gotten “a sense of his soul.” President Obama has already met President Medvedev and reportedly came away impressed, although I suspect he used different metrics in forming a judgment. I hope these two leaders establish a strong bond based on mutual respect. But a more reliable and stable basis for good inter-state relations is a meeting of the minds based on common interests. Russia and the United States have many of these, even while certain issues divide us. For instance, we will never recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and we insist on the right of countries to join any alliance they wish. But the range of concerns where Moscow and Washington see eye to eye or can hope to reach accord is broad and promising.
To some degree, the prospects for improved U.S.-Russian relations hinge on who is making decisions in Moscow. Like everyone else, I wonder whether President Medvedev is really in charge or whether former President and now Prime Minister Putin is running the show. There are also questions about whether there are really any differences of opinion between them, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.
But I take heart from certain statements and gestures President Medvedev has made. These included giving an interview to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which has lost a shocking number of courageous reporters to contract killers. Among our witnesses today is the widow of an American journalist who was gunned down in Moscow; she will give us a personal perspective on the dangers of pursuing the truth in Russia. On another important front, President Medvedev last month convened a working group to begin reforming the laws that regulate some nongovernmental organizations.
These actions indicate to me a realization on his part that tight centralized state control is stifling Russian society, which is ultimately the source of that country’s strength. If such gestures actually translate into trends, there will be more solid grounds for optimism about the prospects for better ties between our countries.
I would like to conclude by mentioning a news report that came out this week. Apparently, the Kremlin has created a new body to improve Russia’s image in the world. Let me suggest that the best way to better one’s reputation is by doing good. President Obama is attempting to do precisely that, changing many of the policies of the previous administration; I would hope the President Medvedev would see that as an example worthy of emulation.