The State Department is pleased to present a video series of interviews with former ambassadors as part of a group of projects commemorating 200 years of U.S.-Russia diplomatic relations. Throughout two centuries, the relationship between the United States and Russia has seen many challenges and historical breakthroughs, including the Bolshevik revolution, our alliance in World War II, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and the emergence of Russian and the newly independent states.
The interview series brings together recollections from former U.S. ambassadors and diplomatic representatives dating back to the American presence in Moscow in 1981. Their insights offer a snapshot into the life of American diplomats in Russia and analyze the current state of U.S.-Russian relations.
Relations Between the United States and the Newly-Independent Russian Federation
Strobe Talbott, Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and Special Adviser to the Secretary of State on the New Independent States: "I think the key thing to keep in mind when looking back to 1993 - which is when the Clinton Administration came into office - is that Russia had only very recently emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union, and there was a combination of uncertainty, anxiety, and euphoria in Russia. There was a lot of optimism in the west about what the possibilities were in Russia and there was a lot of optimism in Russia about what that country could do to live up to its huge potential now that the system was no longer Soviet, Stalinist, and communistic." Full Text | Video
Recollections from the Final Years of the Soviet Union
Arthur Adair Hartman, Former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union: "People often ask me, you know, did you see things falling apart? I don't know of any professional or academic who accurately predicted the fall of the Soviet regime....We all saw around us an aging group of leaders, a wreck of a country, and you know, it didn't seem to us that the system, except in the military field, was working very well. But none of us predicted that it was going to fall down the way it did at a later time." Full Text | Video
The Relationship Between the U.S. and Russia
James F. Collins, Former U.S. Ambassador, Director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: "Well, I guess I would have to say unfortunately that I started kind of at the high point and things got more difficult as we went along, although, I think, in the end I left after four years with the relationship in pretty fair circumstances and enough opportunities there to have developed it in pretty much any way the incoming administration chose." Full Text | Video
Turning Point in Russia
Jack F. Matlock, Former U.S. Ambassador, Professor at Princeton and Columbia Universities: "By the time I got to Moscow in 1987, we were almost at a turning point, we still were not sure what Gorbachev was going to do domestically, and yet from then on, things began to move very rapidly, not only in our relationship, by December of 87 we had the INF treaty that abolished that whole class of nuclear weapons, in a way that was as much in Russia's interests as in ours, even though it had been our proposal. And by the next year you had Reagan visiting Moscow, endorsing what going on domestically and Gorbachev, then preparing for the first real elections which then happened in 89, so the improvement in our relations and the opening up of democratization of the Soviet Union was happening simultaneously. That was the most exciting part of my stay in Moscow as Ambassador." Full Text | Video
Stephen R. Sestanovich, Former U.S. Ambassador, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor at Columbia University: "The late 90s were a very difficult period in Russian-American relations for a variety of reasons. They're often remembered particularly in Russia these days as a period in which Russia did everything that the United States wanted. You could have fooled us. This was actually a relatively contentious period in Russian-American relations." Full Text | Video
Russia's Strong Partnership with the United States
Alexander Vershbow, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Current U.S. Ambassador to South Korea: "Having worked on all the different Cold War issues it was very exciting to arrive in a Russia that was literally a different country than the one I worked on and studied during my academic years, a country that had achieved freedom and democracy and was developing a strong partnership with the United States. One of the first things that I had to deal with on my watch was the aftermath of 9/11 and the Russian reaction and the quick response by President Put in offering his support and helping to facilitate our military operations in Afghanistan, certainly added to the sense of optimism." Full Text | Video
Developing Relations with Russia
Thomas R. Pickering, Former U.S. Ambassador, Co-chair of the International Crisis Group: "It was an interesting time because by May of 1993, when I went, we had been through the collapse of Communism, we had been through President Yeltsin on a tank, we had begun to develop relations both with President Yeltsin and his administration, people like Yegor Gaidar, and they were embarked on an effort to try to change things internally." Full Text | Video