Chairs Nomination Hearing for Michael McFaul

October 12, 2011

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs, today presided over a Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing for Dr. Michael McFaul to be U.S. Ambassador to Russia.

Shaheen praised McFaul, President Obama’s top advisor on Russian policy, for his work in strengthening U.S.-Russia relations over the past two years and said she looked forward to his continued efforts to further bolster ties between the two nations.  Shaheen also urged McFaul to continue to press Russia on areas where the United States has deep disagreements, including on human rights, rule of law, and the ongoing violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Below are Shaheen’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets today to consider the nomination of Michael McFaul to be the U.S. Ambassador to Russia.  I want to welcome Dr. McFaul and his family here today and congratulate him on his nomination.  Thank you for choosing to take on this new responsibility at such an important time for our country.  We look forward to hearing from you about the challenges and opportunities you may face in Moscow. 

It has been over three years since the summer of 2008 when the Russian invasion and occupation of Georgia led to perhaps the lowest point in U.S.-Russian relations since the fall of the Soviet Union. The deteriorating relationship threatened to plunge our two nations back into a new Cold War, marked by mutual distrust and escalating tensions.  

The Obama administration – led behind the scenes by Dr. McFaul – sought to define a new direction – one based on cooperation over confrontation.  The “Reset,” as this new policy has come to be known, was based on the notion that the U.S. and its allies had more to gain from a more cooperative relationship with Russia based on mutual interests.

It has now been nearly two and a half years since the “reset” button was first pushed in March 2009, and there is little doubt that the shift has produced some significant concrete progress for the U.S., our allies, and the world. 

The New START Treaty is perhaps the most high-profile success. Because of New START, the U.S. and Russia have the fewest deployed warheads aimed at each other since the 1950’s.  In addition, on-sight inspections and data exchanges instituted under New START are providing the U.S. with a transparent, detailed picture of Russian strategic forces.  

We have seen significant cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in Afghanistan – a rather remarkable turn considering that just over two decades ago, we were engaged in a proxy war in the country.  We have seen the successful implementation of the Northern Distribution Network into Afghanistan through Russia, which becomes even more important as U.S.-Pakistan relations continue to deteriorate.

Russian cooperation was critical in passing a fourth round of sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, and its decision to cancel the delivery of a missile system to Iran was welcomed by the international community.  We have also seen Russian cooperation on other less high-profile joint efforts, like science and technology, nuclear security, counter-terrorism, health initiatives, and human trafficking.

Some early critics of the reset argued that these efforts would come at the expense of our allies abroad.  The facts, however, have proven those concerns unfounded, as our allies in Eastern and Central Europe have been some of the strongest proponents of the shift in the relationship.  NATO allies were unanimously in support of the New START agreement, and have lobbied for a more cooperative approach in NATO-Russian relations.  A new missile defense program is rapidly being developed in Europe with sites in Poland, Romania, Spain, and Turkey.  Further, NATO has increased its visibility in key regions, including the Baltic states, and is expected to make a high-level visit to Georgia led by the NATO Secretary-General in November.   

One has to see the reset and the concrete benefits it has produced as a success to date; however, the real test of the reset still lies in front of us – not behind us.  Whether or not we are able to sustain these initial successes and expand progress on much more difficult, yet still mutually beneficial, issues remains to be seen.  

Missile defense is one area for further cooperation; however, Russia remains mired in the false Cold War belief that the program is aimed at them.  Further arms control agreements are also possible, but any agreement must include the tactical nuclear weapons advantage the Russians have in Europe.  Russia’s WTO accession is closer than it has ever been; however, significant issues evolving from its continued occupation of Georgian territory need to be resolved.  In addition, further Russian support will be needed if we are to stop Iran from its continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.  Each of these areas can be win-win for the U.S. and Russia but are fraught with difficulty. 

Complicating these efforts is the recent decision by Prime Minister Putin to return to the Presidency of Russia in 2012.  Though the White House has said that the reset is about interests and not personalities, there is little question that a Putin Presidency will change the dynamics of the relationship – likely in a more confrontational direction.

Finally, though we do share mutual interests with Russia on a number of critical issues, it is important to remember that we have a significant number of deep disagreements with Russia, which cannot be papered over by a shift in tone. 

Russia vetoed a resolution at the UN Security Council condemning the Syrian government’s actions and continues to protect its ruthless dictator there.  Russia’s record on human rights and the rule of law is deplorable and by most accounts, getting worse.  Corruption is rampant, and the state of democracy in Russia can only be seen as a failure to date.  Russia remains in violation of the 2008 cease-fire agreement with Georgia and continues to illegally occupy Georgian territory.  In addition, Russia falsely maintains its right to spheres of influence on its borders – with Prime Minister Putin most recently calling for a “Eurasian Union” of ex-Soviet states. 

Despite the improved relationship, we have seen little progress on these disagreements since the beginning of the reset. I will be interested in hearing from Dr. McFaul today about his thoughts on how the United States can be more effective in finding progress on each of these important areas. 

The relationship between the United States and Russia is a complex one with a long and convoluted history.  We have been allies fighting side-by-side against Fascism in World War II and bitter enemies threatening nuclear destruction throughout the Cold War.  It is a relationship marked at times by mutual interests and at others by diametrically opposed values. 

We simply cannot turn our back on this relationship, and we will need our strongest, most capable civil servants in Moscow to balance these difficult responsibilities and represent American interests.  I believe Dr. Michael McFaul is up to this challenge.  I will strongly support his nomination, and I hope the full Senate will quickly confirm him and send him to Moscow.     

Before we hear from Dr. McFaul, I would like to take a moment to offer a brief introduction.

Dr. Michael McFaul currently serves as the President’s top White House advisor on Russian policy and the Senior Director for Russia and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, where he has served since 2009.  A distinguished academic by trade and a renowned Russian expert who speaks the language, he is widely respected on both sides of the aisle here on Capitol Hill. 

He is currently on leave from Stanford University where he is a professor of political science and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.  Dr. McFaul has a strong background in democracy promotion as the former Director of the Center on Democracy, Development and Rule of Law at Stanford and the former Co-Director of the Iran Democracy Project at Hoover. 

Dr. McFaul’s background will prepare him well for the challenges and opportunities in Moscow, and we look forward to hearing from him today.   

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