Former Ambassador Steven Pifer visits JCU

February 3rd, 2016


Deterrence, restraint, and engagement. These are the three ideas that former ambassador Steven Pifer said should be the policy in looking forward towards U.S. relations with Russia.


Pifer is a former Ambassador to Ukraine, director of Brookings Arms Control and non-proliferation initiative and Senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence and Center on U.S. and Europe in foreign policy program at Brookings. At Brookings, he focuses on arms control, as well as issues with Russia and Ukraine. He had postings in London, Moscow, Geneva and Warsaw, as well as the National Security Council.


The political science department hosted Pifer on Tuesday, Feb. 2 as he spoke to students about U.S. relations with Russia in the past and how relations may continue in the future. Pifer explained that when President Obama came to power in 2009, “He wanted to ‘reset’ things with Russia and normalize relations.”


By resetting with Russia, Obama hoped that Russia would assist the U.S. in matters important to us. Pifer explained that during the reset, Russia and the U.S. had a new strategic arms reduction treaty in 2008. Part of this treaty said that neither Russia nor the U.S. could deploy more than 700 bombs or nuclear weapons.


In 2011 though, things began to slow in terms of progress. “I’ve heard second hand that Obama had breakfast with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin when visiting Moscow, and Putin told him all of the ways the U.S. had mistreated Russia,” said Pifer.


During Putin’s first two terms as prime minister, it was said that he had an impact on Russia. “The domestic factor was a big factor in Russian foreign policy,” Pifer said.


As the price of oil went up, so did the standard of living for the Russian people, making it easier to trust in Putin.


The U.S. did not want to speak with Russia about arms control until after the election. When Obama was re-elected in 2012, Pifer said the government decided to get Russian relations back on track.


The three issues that were planned to be addressed in the spring were arms control, missile defense, and business such as trading. “I think the press got it wrong in August of 2013 when the White House was said to have cancelled the meeting with Moscow because of Snowden.” Pifer continued, “It was really more about the fact that the three issues of arms control, missile defense and business, nothing was happening with them.”


The policy looking forward stemmed from the assumption that we could have a cooperative relationship with Russia in 2009 and 2010. Pifer said, “That doesn’t seem to be possible.” Pifer’s first idea for a policy looking forward was deterrence. This is primarily between the U.S. defending the territory of NATO and the Baltic States.


His second idea was restraint, which focuses on the in-between countries of Ukraine and Moldova. “What can the west do to bolster the resilience of these countries so that they are stronger and more successful and promote a lesser opportunity for the Russians to come in?” Pifer said.


The country of Ukraine would not be able to defeat the Russian army but Pifer said that what must be done is to make the Russians realize that a renewed conflict with Ukraine will have cost to the Russians.


The last part of Pifer’s policy focused on engagement. This means the U.S. needs to talk to Russia about questions, especially ones where both sides converge. The treaty signed years ago allows inspections and notifications between the countries which Pifer believes will help the U.S. to know what Russia is planning.


After Pifer finished his presentation, students were able to ask questions.


One student asked, “What is Russia’s long-term goal? Pifer responded that their goal is to focus on how to stay in power. They focus on nationalism and the support of the Russian people.


Another question that was asked was, “Does Russian propaganda play a role in civil society?” Pifer’s answer was that the Russian people used to have skeptical views and didn’t believe anything, but now they seem to accept everything. He said that those who are making the propaganda “are not trying to tell a story, but rather discredit everything,” said Pifer.


Pifer’s closing comment was that the best way to move forward was to focus on all three pieces of the policy he outlined together.