Gates to Discuss Defense Reforms With Russians
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 18, 2011 During Robert M. Gates’ final trip to Russia as U.S. defense secretary, he’ll meet with Russian officials to discuss defense reforms under way in both nations, as well as global security and arms-control issues, the Pentagon’s senior spokesman said here today.
At a briefing for defense reporters here, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff S. Morrell said Gates’ upcoming visits to St. Petersburg and Moscow will not be driven solely by arms control or global security topics.
“This trip was borne out of the fact that both Secretary Gates and [Russian Federation Defense] Minister [Anatoly] Serdyukov, independently, were pursuing ambitious reform agendas within their ministries, within their departments,” Morrell said.
Gates invited Serdyukov to Washington last September to discuss their independent efforts to “tame these enormous bureaucracies and doing so at a time when they are under enormous fiscal pressure,” Morrell said.
After completing a productive series of meetings where the two defense chiefs addressed mutual 21st-century threats and talked about the need to reform, adjust and modernize their departments” Morrell said, Serdyukov invited Gates to Moscow to continue their discussions.
“The trip [to Russia] is important in terms of how big our militaries are and the roles we play in the world,” Morrell said.
“It’s important that we have transparency into what we’re focused on, what we’re working on, what we’re developing and how we’re managing,” he added, “so that we can meet our respective responsibilities regionally and globally.”
Gates’ meetings in Russia offer an opportunity to discuss pragmatic defense perspectives with his counterparts, a senior defense official said.
It’s hoped the talks lead to increased U.S.-Russian defense cooperation, the official said, so that the two nations can have a genuine partnership.
The trip, the official said, also is an opportunity to strengthen the defense relationship between the two countries in a way that reinforces progress made in U.S.-Russian relations since Vice President Joe Biden introduced the “reset” concept at Munich, Germany in 2008.
For the United States, the official added, the reset has created successes involving Afghanistan, strategic arms control, Iran and its nuclear challenge, and the bilateral defense relationship.
President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in April. The agreement reduces the deployed nuclear forces of both nations and provides mutual verification measures.
In September, Gates and Serdyukov agreed to establish a defense relations working group as one of 18 such groups under the Bilateral Presidential Commission that Obama and Medvedev set up at the July 2009 Moscow summit, the defense official said.
Working group topics, the official said, included nuclear energy and nuclear security, arms control and international security, foreign policy and fighting terrorism, drug trafficking and others.
“This will be the first meeting of the defense relations working group at the ministerial level since it was established,” the official explained.
Gates and the Russians will review progress made since September and discuss broader subjects in the bilateral defense relationship, the official added.
“These will include missile defense cooperation, relations with NATO, other topics in European security such as conventional arms control, and new START treaty follow-up issues,” the defense official said.
“I imagine,” the official added, “they will touch on regional issues of mutual interest including the Middle East but also the Korean peninsula, Afghanistan and issues on the Russia periphery such as Georgia.”
Gates is scheduled to give a speech to company-grade officers from the Kuznetsov Higher Naval Academy in St. Petersburg, the official said.
“The officers are the next generation of Russian military leaders,” the official continued, “and given the focus on defense reform in our dialog, it’s an important opportunity for the secretary to share his thinking on defense reform as part of our deepening pattern of cooperation between our two countries.”
The visit will include topics that have been traditional in the dialog between defense ministries, like arms control, military-to-military cooperation, defense technology cooperation and missile defense, the official added.
“But the dialog extends in new directions by getting into the different dimensions of Russian defense reform, which I think reflects a qualitative change that’s developing in the relationship as a whole,” the defense official said.
Serdyukov’s reforms agenda includes improving conditions for Russian military personnel and their families as Russia makes the transition to an all-volunteer force, the official added.
The American military model might not always be entirely applicable to the Russian case, the official said.
“But I think the Russians have welcomed this chance [for discussion],” the official said. “In this particular dimension of the relationship, it’s not an exaggeration to say unprecedented.”
The official said he expects the meeting between Gates and Medvedev to focus on major strategic issues.
“Missile defense is one area where I think we’ve seen Russian collaboration,” he said. “Others include Afghanistan and dealing with Iran, and I’m certain they will want to exchange perspectives on how to deal with the fast-moving developments in the Middle East.”
The United States is looking for more ways Russia can support efforts in Afghanistan and efforts of the Afghan government to become more capable of providing for its own security, the defense official said.
“Russia has been very important in facilitating transit for the northern distribution network by rail and through air transit, he added, “and we’ve been talking about ways that they can help raise the effectiveness of the future Afghan air force, one of the mainstays of which will be [Russian] Mi-17 helicopters.”
But for Gates the trip won’t be all business. His wife Becky will accompany him and they will take in some of the highlights of culture and history in St. Petersburg, Morrell said.
Russia is Gates’ area of interest, Morrell said, noting the secretary “is a Russian scholar, a Soviet history scholar and he has a master’s [degree] and a doctorate in Russian and Soviet studies.”
Earlier in his federal career before becoming the Pentagon’s chief, Gates had worked 27 years at the CIA, where he’d risen to serve as the agency’s director from 1991 to 1993.
“This is a secretary of defense whose previous career was almost entirely focused on dealing with the Soviet Union and the threat they posed,” Morrell said, “trying to glean as much intelligence as possible about their capabilities and intentions.”