New U.S. ambassador to Russia to offer creative solutions

Michael McFaul, who masterminded the Obama administration’s “reset” policy with Russia, has refused to comment on the rumor that he will be appointed as the next U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

Provided his appointment is approved by the Senate, the new ambassador is expected to help resolve the problem of the ballistic missile shield in Europe, the Jackson-Vanik amendment and Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization.

McFaul is not a career diplomat, but a former Stanford University political science professor. Thus, many bystanders hope that he will not just fulfill orders, while disregarding their consequences. Besides, no other U.S. ambassador in Moscow has written about the country ahead of his appointment. McFaul has written books and dozens of articles and delivered many reports on Russia at the Hoover Institution and the Carnegie Center.

A politically correct pragmatic

Judging from McFaul’s proposals, the essence of his mission to Moscow could be described as an intricate combination of ritual statements on human rights and democracy in Russia with attempts to ensure U.S. strategic and economic interests.

He is a pragmatic with a talent for finding politically correct words for mutually advantageous proposals.

An interesting example of his thinking is the article, “The Russian Graduate,” which he contributed to The Washington Post in May 2002. The article deals with the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which “explicitly linked the Soviet Union’s trading status to levels of Jewish emigration” and hampered bilateral trade.

McFaul suggested that Congress should “graduate” Russia from Jackson-Vanik and at the same time initiate new legislation to deal with new forms of abuse in Russia, namely to “create a Jackson-Vanik Foundation, dedicated to the promotion of human rights and religious freedoms in Russia.”

He suggested celebrating the two events and to invite Russian state officials, including Putin himself, and their harshest critics to such a ceremony.

Why not erect a monument to Jackson and Vanik at the site of the ceremony to make the event even more impressive? Americans would bring flowers to it as a symbol of democracy and liberties, while Russians would respect it as a symbol of red tape.

Forty years will have passed since the amendment’s approval in 2012.

WTO, missile defense and other obstacles

McFaul would have to wrangle with more difficult problems than Jackson-Vanik as the new ambassador. He would need compromise skills to overcome Georgia’s resistance and ensure Russia’s accession to the WTO.

The Guardian and The New York Times write that McFaul’s priorities in his new job, at least in the first few months, will be to negotiate Russia’s membership in the WTO, maintain U.S. supply routes to Afghanistan through Russia, and work toward a missile defense deal.

Russia has been knocking on the WTO door since 1993. Although its membership would benefit U.S. economic interests, Washington is using it as an instrument for pressuring Russia. It prevented Russia’s WTO entry under different pretexts during the George W. Bush presidency, and later Georgia withdrew its approval after the August 2008 war over South Ossetia.

According to the WTO rules, accession is granted to an applicant country only if all members of the working group approve the appeal.

Moscow’s arguments are clear and understandable. There has never been an instance in WTO history when an accession approval has been withdrawn. Russia’s membership would benefit not only Russia, but also the United States and its European allies, yet Washington is still looking for a way to ensure its membership without offending Georgia.

McFaul has recently proposed a “creative solution” without disclosing its details.

Georgia thinks its border guards must be deployed on the Abkhazian and South Ossetian border with Russia, while McFaul said “there is a creative solution to that without having to put customs officials in Abkhazia or South Ossetia on the border with Russia.”

“The idea is probably to choose an intermediary to control the border,” said a source at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on the condition of anonymity.

This compromise might appease all sides. Moscow would not need to protest the deployment of Georgian troops on the border of the de facto independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while Georgian authorities would be able to tell their people that the border is not controlled by Russians, but rather by an international force.

“We think there is a way to increase transparency and information flows about what (goods) might be going across that border,” McFaul said at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics.

As for elements of the U.S. ballistic missile shield in Poland, which the Russian military say threatens Russia’s nuclear potential, so far McFaul has not offered a solution. However, the situation regarding strategic offensive weapons also seemed unsolvable until the new START Treaty was signed in the Czech Republic.

According to The Washington Post, Joseph Cirincione, an arms-control expert who worked with McFaul when both men advised then-candidate Obama on foreign policy, said McFaul “is one of the leading lights guiding nuclear policy with Russia and someone who could drive the bureaucracy in the direction the president wanted.”

Maybe McFaul also has a creative solution to the ballistic missile shield issue.

Creative solutions are what U.S.-Russian relations have lacked over the past 10 or 15 years. If the new U.S. ambassador offers them, his mission to Moscow will be an undeniable success.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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