The 30th World Russia Forum 2011 (The Lozansky Forum) took place in Washington, DC on March 29–30 and was unquestionable, if only expected, success. Kudos to The Maestro, Edward Lozansky, and his crew of bright young volunteer assistants!
The "official flavor" of the year was celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic space mission. Reflecting the occasion, American Astronauts and Russian Cosmonauts attended some of the Forum events. It's not often that one can meet, listen to and even shake hands with someone whose deeds expanded the borders of what the humankind can achieve.
Yet, the focus of the Forum was obviously where it always is: on the current status and the future of U.S.-Russia relations.
Many will remember the Forum (or, at least, its Monday afternoon session) for a spirited exchange — the Russian word "перепалка" also comes to mind — between the legendary neocon, Richard Perle, and Konstantin Kosachev, the well-informed and influential chairman of the Russian Duma committee on foreign affairs. Although made unnecessary confrontational by Perle, the spat has demonstrated that the issues dividing both countries are real.
That said, many experts agreed on at least two points. The first point of agreement was that "reset" in U.S.-Russia relations was actually working. Barely two-year old, the "reset" has already resulted in a number of positive developments. One of the most important, if difficult to quantitate, has been the warming up of the very tone of the bilateral dialogue. As shrewdly pointed out by Robert Legvold, the "reset" could be called a success if only because "there are expectations of further progress."
The other thing that most of the experts also agreed upon was that we were, somewhat surprisingly, beyond "reset" and that a new, "post-reset", agenda in U.S.-Russia relations must be developed. Some argued that the relations are too focused on arms control, which in itself drags them back in the Cold War past. At the same time, economic relations between the two countries remain in embryonic state, and there is no consensus with regards to why they refuse to grow in earnest. (American experts traditionally refer to Russia's poor investment climate, whereas their Russian counterparts predictable invoke discriminative measures like the notorious Jackson-Vanik amendment.)
Creating a roadmap from "reset" to a "sustainable partnership" (Legvold's term) won't be easy and will require efforts on many different levels. However, there is every reason to feel optimistic. One only has to remember where U.S.-Russia relations were just two years ago, at the time of the 28th World Russia Forum. The New START agreement was still under negotiations, the "123" nuclear civil cooperation agreement was not even resubmitted to Congress, and the Forum participants were trying to persuade each other and themselves that — in the words of William Burns, U.S. Under Secretary of State — "the United States and Russia matter to one another."
Let's hope that the next Lozansky Forum will give us more reasons for optimism. Let's also hope that Ed Lozansky will invite Richard Perle again. And Perle will come and, perhaps, even stay for lunch.