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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at Eurasia Foundation Gala Dinner


Remarks
William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Mayflower Hotel
Washington, DC
April 24, 2012

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Thank you for that kind introduction. It is truly an honor to be here this evening. I have deep admiration for the work of the Eurasia Foundation over the past two decades … deep admiration for Sarah Carey and for all that she meant to the Foundation and to all of us for so many years … and deep admiration for Tom Pickering, quite simply the best diplomat I have ever known.

For an American diplomat of my generation, or of any generation for that matter, there could be no better role model than Tom Pickering. Across seven Ambassadorships and four decades, Tom was the consummate professional; encyclopedic in his grasp of issues, whether nuclear throw-weights or the widgets in the Embassy boiler room; a superb advocate of American interests and values; an unsurpassed problem solver and negotiator; and a tireless champion of his colleagues and Embassy communities. His Gulf War diplomacy at the United Nations set the standard for excellence at a remarkable post-Cold War moment, as the ice broke around multilateral diplomacy. In literally every region of the world, Tom showed what the best in American diplomacy could accomplish. And in every posting, he and his beloved Alice were as formidable a diplomatic partnership as I can imagine.

Tom is also that rarest of commodities in Washington: as principled, big-hearted and modest as he is skillful and professionally accomplished. In a town with no shortage of ego, Tom is exceptional for his humility. And in a town with no shortage of self-promoters, Tom is best known for taking care of his people and bringing out the best in those around him.

Thanks to the tireless and extraordinary service of Tom Pickering, we are all in a far better place -- from those of us in the Foreign Service and at Eurasia who benefited directly from his remarkable example and treasure his friendship, to the wider American audience who are more prosperous and secure because Tom Pickering represented them to the world. I can think of no greater personal honor than to join all of you in honoring Ambassador Pickering tonight.

We name awards after exceptional people not just to honor their memory, but to carry forward a small measure of the spirit and values they stood for in life. Sarah Carey was a champion for free markets and free societies and a lifelong student of Russia. She made her first trip to Moscow in 1959, where -- as a Harvard student hired by Pepsi to support a U.S. exhibition -- she witnessed that famous impromptu kitchen debate between Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon on the merits of communism versus capitalism. Sarah believed passionately that expanded trade and investment were the best ways to promote change. In the 1980s, she became a pioneer in joint ventures between Russian and American firms. And in 1994, she became chair of the Eurasia Foundation, a post she held until the end of her life. Sarah had a tremendous impact on Eurasia’s programs and operations, recognizing that the long-term success and prosperity of the countries in this region would be underpinned by things like predictable rule of law and independent media. Her vision helped transform the Eurasia Foundation into a model private-public partnership for others to emulate; her leadership, exercised over five decades, bequeathed a legacy of new friends and partners for America across 11 time zones. Sarah was a wonderful friend to many of us. She is deeply missed, but she will long be remembered.

Russia and Eurasia Matter

Sarah Carey understood better than most that few regions matter more to our success and security than Russia and the other independent nations that emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union. This area is a strategic crossroads—a place where different faiths, cultures and traditions have co-mingled and collided from the time of Alexander the Great and the Silk Road.

Home to a quarter of a billion people, the countries of the region hold vast hydrocarbon reserves and pipelines critical to a secure global supply of energy. As the world’s biggest consumer of energy, the United States has a vital interest in seeing a competitive market for energy emerge in this region that provides security to both consumers and producers.

The same countries play an important role as partners in our Afghanistan strategy by providing critical logistical and other support. As Afghanistan takes charge of its own destiny and security, its neighbors to the west and north will be vital partners in stitching the country and region back together, stemming the illicit flows of drugs, weapons and people and combating the violent extremism that tends to take root where economic and political hope is scarce.

No consideration of this area is complete without a closer look at Russia, the world’s largest country. Beyond its oil and gas riches, Russia remains an influential player on the world stage -- as a member of the UN Security Council, Middle East Quartet, P5+1, Six Party Talks, G-8, G-20 and soon the WTO -- in addressing the most difficult challenges of our time, from Iran and North Korea to Syria and the global financial crisis. Together the United States and Russia hold 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, and share both unique capabilities and unique responsibilities in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials around the globe.

Unfinished Business

All of these countries figure into the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace first articulated by President George Herbert Walker Bush and echoed by his three successors. A vision that Sarah Carey, Tom Pickering and the Eurasia Foundation have worked hard to realize.

While many people may have been overly optimistic twenty years ago about how fast change would come to Russia and the other newly independent states, the reality is that they are still are in the throes of a post-Imperial, post-Soviet, post-Communist transition that is going to take generations to complete. Nonetheless, societal change is happening and the pace is increasing.

During the five years I spent in Russia over two tours, I was heartened by nearly every encounter with young people, including some who had been touched by the Eurasia Foundation’s programs. I was impressed in recent years by young Russians’ connections to the world: half of Russians over age eighteen are on the Internet today. Three million Russians are blogging. Russians made over thirty-six million trips abroad last year. More Russians received visas to travel to the United States than ever before -- twice as many as came just seven years ago. Russians have become accustomed to and expect basic personal freedoms: the freedom to travel, to shift jobs and residence, to own and convey property, and to express themselves in cyberspace.

The fact that, beginning last December, tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets repeatedly and were able to carry out peaceful demonstrations is a vivid reminder that Russians want a political voice and want to help shape their own future. Only Russians can determine how the political and economic modernization of their vast and complicated country unfolds. But it is increasingly clear that a growing mass of citizens, from the emerging urban middle class of Moscow and St. Petersburg, to thoughtful leaders and activists in Russia’s far flung regions, are determined to play their part.

I am under no illusions about the challenges ahead or about the difficulties faced by journalists and political activists. As many of you here tonight know well, support for democratic rights and institutions takes patience, humility and resolve. That said, America still has a very real stake in seeing all the countries of the region develop into secure, prosperous democracies. Our support for the people of this region will endure, and we cannot afford to lose sight of what is at stake, however much our attention may be diverted by the understandable demands of a rising Asia-Pacific or a restive Arab Spring.

Civil Society in a Changing Landscape

If the past sixteen months are any indication -- especially in the places where democracy and economic opportunity have lagged -- we have been reminded that our strongest and most stable partners are those able to meet the aspirations of their technologically-empowered, globally-connected people. Increasingly the political and economic terrain of these regions are being shaped not by rulers but by the societies they govern.

Advances in information and communications technologies have lowered barriers to civic participation and activism. Using these tools, volunteers are connecting victims of natural disasters to first responders; civic watchdogs are using new platforms to shine a light on government procurement; and election monitors are increasing transparency through the use of crowd-sourcing. And we are seeing economic and political agendas dovetail in the desire to empower civic-minded activists and local entrepreneurs to organize and strengthen their communities directly.

A powerful tool the United States can turn to for help is public-private partnership to support local actors. The inspiring efforts of the Eurasia Foundation -- an idea that originated in government and was embraced by private citizens -- are fundamentally changing the trajectory of civil society, local government, and small business in communities from Arkangelsk to Astana. With the ability to make connections to the private sector and the international community, the Eurasia Foundation helps citizens in these countries to turn local ideas into concrete initiatives, from creating independent media outlets in Kyrgyzstan and Armenia to producing the next generation of environmental scientists in Kazakhstan and public policy experts in Uzbekistan.

Last year, with the support of the U.S. government, the Eurasia Foundation launched the Civil Society Partnership Program to connect Americans and Russians who share common cause in bringing positive change to their communities from education to environmental protection. Through micro-grants and working with American partners, this program is helping Transparency International Russia develop new tools to protect whistle blowers. It is also enabling the Russian National Foundation for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to improve training for child welfare service providers. These are just a few examples where government resources leveraged with private sector connections and talent are inspiring citizens to change their local landscapes.

Business in a Changing Landscape

The demonstrations across Russia this winter also remind us of what Sarah Carey always knew: that an empowered middle class, with a demand for accountability and transparency, can also drive political and economic change. After a decade of growth, an emerging generation of Russians aspires not just to see their country a wealthy great power -- but a modern nation in which they have the opportunity to compete and innovate in the global marketplace; a nation in which they have a say in how they are governed and how their tax dollars are spent.

Our goal is to be supportive of efforts made by Russians themselves to modernize their economic and political systems.

Organizations like the New Eurasia Foundation, the Russian affiliate of the Eurasia Foundation, and its American partners are already doing this by helping to create networks for collaboration between American and Russian engineers and research universities—which are among the very best in the world. Through unique “hubs,” universities such as St. Petersburg State University of Information Technology, UCLA, and the University of Washington, are partnering on projects to commercialize research, driving the creation of knowledge-based jobs so important to diverse innovation economies.

Also vital to Russia’s economic modernization, Russia’s historic invitation to join the World Trade Organization after 18 years of negotiations is a watershed moment not only for our bilateral relations, not only for our own economic prosperity, but for all who seek a modern, successful and prosperous Russia. WTO membership can be a catalyst for change and growth. Upon its accession, Russia will join a rules-based community, joining the U.S. and others in taking on obligations to increase transparency in laws and regulations.

But these breakthroughs will be cold comfort for American companies who have been waiting for better access to Russia’s markets unless we now terminate the application to Russia of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which for 37 years has conditioned normal trade relations on Russia’s emigration policies. Lifting Jackson-Vanik is in our own short-term economic interest -- it will open up Russian markets for U.S. business, expand opportunities for our companies, and create more American jobs. It is also in Russia’s long-term interest. Many of Russia’s civic activists agree that increased trade will lead to economic growth, help diversify Russia’s economy, and strengthen its middle class.

This is, understandably, a moment of intense domestic preoccupations, with Russia’s presidential inauguration next month and America well into its presidential election season. It’s easy for both nations to become totally transfixed by the “who” questions: Who will lead our countries? Who will be shaping the choices that matter so much to the future of both our societies?

The “who” questions obviously matter enormously. But in many respects it’s the “what” questions which matter most. What will Russia do to move beyond its dependence on hydrocarbons and diversify its economy? What will Russia do to fight corruption, the biggest threat to any innovation economy? What will Russia do to safeguard a free press, when young journalists like Yelena Milashina are attacked with impunity and when the killers of Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Klebnikov are not brought to justice? What will Russia do to build an independent judiciary, when those responsible for the death of young lawyers like Sergey Magnitsky are rewarded instead of being held to account? When businessmen like Mikhail Khodorkovskiy remain in prison, denied basic due process under the law?

These are all hard questions. The good news is that they are questions being asked not just by outside observers, but by Russian citizens themselves, repeatedly and openly. How Russians answer those questions will shape whether Russia takes advantage of the historic window for modernization which is still wide open, but which won’t stay open forever. Only Russians can decide their country’s future, but all Russians deserve a voice in that decision.

It remains deeply in the interest of the United States to see a strong Russia continue to re-emerge, a prosperous and modernizing Russia fully integrated into the global economy, a Russia which respects the rights of its citizens and thereby makes it possible for them to realize their extraordinary potential.

Conclusion

Those, like Sarah Carey and Tom Pickering, who have lived the ups and downs of Russia know that democracy is a road, not a destination -- one with no shortage of potholes and even a few wrecks along the shoulder. The modernization of societies that emerged from a communist past has never been automatic or predictable, and it’s certainly not finished.

The people of these countries themselves will do the most to determine the future of the region. It is after all their home, and it is their lives that are most affected by events and political trends. But we cannot afford to be detached observers. Nations that harness not just the wealth in the ground but the talents of their people are most likely to produce partners, least likely to produce threats, and best positioned -- as Secretary Clinton says -- to help every man, woman and child live up to their God-given potential.

That is why the kind of work that the Sarah Carey award recognizes -- and which Tom Pickering epitomizes -- is so critically important in Russia and Eurasia. No one doubts that the path ahead will be hard. We know what it is to see our hopes for this region raised and dashed. But the world is changing -- rapidly and inescapably. And as it does, the talent, expertise, and dedication that are so evident in the extraordinary work of Eurasia Foundation give me a great deal of the confidence for the future.

Thank you.



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