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NEWS  / WHY STUDY RUSSIAN? - REMARKS BY AMBASSADOR BURNS
26.09.2005


The following are excerpts made to the American Chamber of Commerce by the US Ambassador to Russia, William J. Burns.  They are provided not only for their succinct expression of the current political and economic state of Russia, but also because they show the importance of studying and understanding this country that will play a major role in world politics and economy for many years to come. 

This speech was made in Moscow on September 22, 2005.  The full version of this text is available from www.usembassy.ru

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Ambassador Burns is greeted by the press in the CaucausesI am very lucky to have returned to Russia during such an interesting and challenging period. As I learned in my previous posting in Moscow, Russians are a great people with a proud history; a rich culture; a stunning record of endurance in the face of almost unimaginable hardships in the last century; and tremendous potential in the century ahead.

Russia remains the largest country on the face of the earth, sitting astride Europe, Asia and the Greater Middle East. It is the only nuclear power comparable to the United States. It is the world's largest energy producer. It is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The bottom line is that Russia still matters greatly to American interests, and to the future of global order.

The United States therefore has a crucial stake in supporting the emergence of a strong, vibrant Russia, integrated into global institutions, and guided by the market principles and democratic values that are both the foundation of those institutions and the keys to realizing the full potential of Russia's greatest resource: its immensely talented and
well-educated population.

That process will not happen overnight, nor will it be easy. It will be a struggle for at least a generation of Russians, and there will be no shortage of challenges along the way.

But as President Bush made clear again last Friday when he met President Putin in Washington, the United States will continue to do all we can to help Russia navigate through those challenges and realize its vast promise. That doesn't mean that we won't have differences sometimes; we do, and we will, and that's hardly surprising. But what it does mean is that we continue to share a great deal of common ground. Nowhere is that more apparent, or more important, than in our mutual interest in Russia's economic modernization.

Russia's economy has come a long way in the last decade. That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that significant problems remain in the path of Russia tapping its full potential. Demographic decline is a serious challenge. As President Putin has underscored, excessive bureaucracy has a stifling effect on economic innovation, especially on small and medium sized enterprises. Corruption is pervasive, and growing, and it too is a drag on economic progress. Courts and regulators are another area of unfinished business - and without more consistent and transparent rules of the road and a stronger and more independent judiciary, Russia will miss economic opportunities. The trend towards over-centralization of power in both the economic and political spheres impedes growth and efficiency, and encourages waste of both the natural and human resources in which Russia is so rich.

The truth is that tackling these challenges - difficult and complex as they are - is not a favor to the United States or foreign business or any other outside player. Nor is it something that lends itself to preachiness or patronizing pronouncements, of which all of us are occasionally guilty. It is, as President Putin has said in several recent speeches, profoundly in Russia's own self-interest. The sooner Russia finds its path toward such reforms, the faster it will emerge as the strong, prosperous and responsible power that the world needs and the Russian people deserve.

As President Putin and President Bush discussed last Friday, the year ahead, culminating in Russia's hosting of the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg next summer, offers an unusually valuable opportunity to work together on all these issues. We have a busy economic agenda before us, in which five areas of cooperation seem to me to be particularly important:

First, supporting Russia's continuing integration into global economic institutions. President Bush reaffirmed to President Putin his strong interest in completing a bilateral agreement on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization before the end of this year.

Second, building a genuine energy partnership. Here, too, the St. Petersburg G-8 Summit provides a good organizing mechanism, since the Russian government has already indicated its interest in making energy security a central theme.

Third, expand ties in the non-energy sector. Alcoa, Ford, International Paper, United Technologies and many others represented in this room are moving ahead ambitiously. Boeing, Intel, and Microsoft all have tapped into the enormous wealth of expertise in this country in design and engineering - another vivid reminder that Russia's energy resources are matched by her human resources, especially at the high end of the technology industry.

Fourth, continue to encourage development of a genuinely independent judiciary and transparent regulatory and tax policies. The run-up to the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg puts a spotlight on this set of issues - and also offers an opportunity for Russia to show its commitment to the standards and practices which bind the rest of the G-8, and which offer the surest path to rapid economic modernization.

Fifth, support Russia's efforts to preserve its extraordinary human resources through strengthening the Russian educational and health systems. An active exchange program between students and educators in our two countries is one obvious tool. We can also do more together in the health sector.

In all five of these areas, and in the rest of our economic relationship, the coming year holds a lot of promise. A sense of urgency will be crucial. As another of my favorite American commentators, Will Rogers, reminds us: "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." The Russian economy has come a very long way, in a relatively short period of time, and its potential is enormous. But in this intensely competitive and very unsentimental global economy of ours, it can't afford to lose its focus or its momentum. In barely a month back in Moscow, I've seen many signs that that reality is sinking in here, and I'll do all I can - working closely with all of you - to encourage further progress.



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