Organized by its founder and spiritual leader, Edward Lozansky, the 28th World Russian Forum took place in Washington, DC on April 27-28. It's time to give this event its proper name: The Lozansky Forum.
This year, I was able to attend only the opening day's session, which covered the most interesting (for me) topic: the present state and the future of U.S.-Russia relations. Without any pretense of a detailed analysis, just a few thoughts.
"The United States and Russia matter to one another."
Even participants who don't count themselves among the friends of the current Kremlin regime — and those were present in the audience too — would nevertheless agree that the "reset" stage in U.S.-Russia relations has created a window of opportunity that cannot be let shut.
Many of the speakers argued that two areas of cooperation between the two countries – arms control and economy, especially energy cooperation — are particularly ripe for early progress.
Naturally, a lot of attention was paid to the START treaty negotiations. A consensus has emerged — as articulated by Russian Ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, and Robert McFarlane, National Security Adviser to President Reagan — that although it's incredibly difficult to reach a new agreement by December, when the current treaty expires, this still can be done.
A contour of the new treaty was drawn by the Russian academic, Sergei Rogov, who suggested that the new agreement will call the two sides to limit their strategic nuclear arms to 1,500 warheads and 700-800 carriers each. Rogov also spoke about the need to draw a road-map to achieving the complete destruction of nuclear weapons: from 2,500 to 1,500; from 1,500 to under 1,000; from under 1,000 to perhaps 500 or so; from 500 to zero(?).
Rogov was echoed by Robert Legvoldof Columbia University who asked what a strategic direction for the relationship should be and where we will find ourselves 4-6 years from now. Legvold was joined by Thomas Pickering, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, with a call for "ideas":
"We should again look for ideas…We'd better have a common agenda; it worked before."
Ambassador Kislyak pointed out that the volume of U.S.-Russia trade, currently at $36 billion, doesn't reflect the real potential of economic cooperation between the two countries. (He was quick to add, with a smile, that it's still almost a 4-fold increase in just 5 years). For the United States, Russia represents only 1 percent of the foreign trade, and the United States sits somewhere at the bottom of the list of Russia's first 10 trade partners. Nevertheless, some positive trends seem to be forming. The U.S. businesses have invested about $30 billion in Russia, and Russian private companies have reciprocated with about $12 billion in investments in the U.S.
Robert McFarlane suggested to revive an old project of selling liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Yamal to North America, with a potential to provide the cheapest LNG in the world.
Many speakers called on President Obama to spend some political capital on persuading Congress to ratify the so-called 123 (nuclear cooperation) Agreement and to repeal the anachronistic Jackson-Vanik amendment.
The second guest-speaker was Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). It would appear that his short speech was written in the midst of the Cold War and has never been updated ever since. A number of Russian participants were visibly impressed with the diversity of opinions. (A journalist from Moscow asked me, during the lunch, "why wouldn't Obama just throw away the whole idea of anti-missile defense?" I explained that Obama would face a strong opposition to such a move, including that in Congress. The journalist grimaced and shrugged. After DeMint's speech, our eyes met: I felt he was getting my point better now).
The now famous Prof. Igor Panarin has also made his appearance and turned out to be much less radical, more convincing and, yes, more charming than what one would guess from his descriptions in the American media. While gently insisting that his prognosis about America's disintegration in 2010 still stands, Prof. Panarin made it clear that he didn't want this to happen. Instead, he'd rather attend the Lozansky Forum next year and in the years to come. Needless to say, Igor Nikolaevich will always be welcome in the united United States of America.
Two last things. First, hats off — and many thanks – to Edward Lozansky and his ever classy wife Tatiana for the impeccable organization of the Forum. Second, the severe economic crisis in Russia didn't affect the quality of food and drinks served at the Russian Embassy reception Monday night.