Summary of the town hall “Russia 2012 and Beyond: Reset or Rewind?” at the 2011 Annual Members’ Conference.



Alexander Vershbow,* Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, United States Department of Defense; former United States Ambassador to NATO and to the Russian Federation
Moderated by Annette Heuser,** Executive Director, Bertelsmann Foundation

This session featured one of the leading experts on Russia and the former Soviet Union, former Ambassador to the Russian Federation, and the current assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Alexander Vershbow.

The Obama administration implemented the so-called “reset” policy approximately two years ago with the aim of improving the US-Russian relations and increasing cooperation between the two countries. This session provided an opportunity to take a step back and reflect at the last two years, especially in light of the upcoming electoral season both in Russia and the United States.

The discussion focused primarily on the “reset”: what have been some of its major achievements and what challenges still lay ahead in the bilateral relationship between Russia and the United States, including specifically with regard to the work of the US Defense Department.

Among the primary issues discussed were Russia’s and the US relations with Georgia , the START treaty, nuclear arms control, missile defense cooperation , and US and Russian policies with respect to Iran, Afghanistan, and counterterrorism, as well as bilateral engagement with NATO.

Additional issues included Russia’s interest in the WTO membership and Russia’s relationship with its neighbors—what the Russian government refers to as the Russian “sphere of influence.”

The US and Russia’s relationship with Central Asia was touched upon, particularly given US involvement in Afghanistan for the next several years, and the announced US pullout in 2014.

In addition, the role of large Western European countries with regard to Russia and the United States, was discussed briefly, particularly with regard to missile defense and pathways to Russia’s alliance with NATO, and more generally, relations with transatlantic partners.

In light of the upcoming presidential elections in Russia in March 2013, the differences between Russian President Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Putin were also mentioned. Finally, the role of Russia in the Middle East, and opinions about the Arab spring, as well as Russia’s relations with Asian countries, were discussed briefly.