Former director of Russian Affairs gives a lecture on United States and Russian relations

David Kostelancik, the former Director of Russian Affairs for the U.S. State Department and current U.S. adviser to the Helsinki Commission, gave a lecture at Pray-Harrold on Tuesday night. The event covered the relationship between Russia and the United States, specifically how that relationship changed once the war in Ukraine started.

“These views are my own and they do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State or the Congress of the United States,” Kostelancik said.

Kostelancik started his lecture with three questions about the relationship between the United States and Russia:

1. What is the current state?

2. How did we get here?

3. What's to be done?

The current relationship between the United States and Russia is frosty at best. This is because of the conflict in Ukraine which has reduced the relationship between Washington and Moscow to its lowest point since the Cold War.

According to an August report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “at least 1,200 people had been killed, and at least 3,250 people have been wounded in east Ukraine between July 16 and Aug. 17.”

As Kostelancik explained, the United States is not involved militarily in the war in Ukraine, but it has led the charge against Russia with economic sanctions. The Obama administration has avoided direct military involvement, but has attempted to hurt Russia's all-important energy sector and other industries to force Russia into stopping its incursions into Ukrainian territory.

“The Ukraine crisis and Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and its direct military intervention and aggression has had a significant impact on the four pillar approach we had before the crisis,” Kostelancik said.

Obama and the European Union responded by passing a series of sanctions against the Russian economy. According to CNN Money, the Russian ruble lost 40 percent of its value to the U.S. dollar in the last six months. Gross domestic product is expected to go down by 5 percent this year while inflation is going up and living standards are going down. Putin even cut his own official salary by 10 percent.

“Capital flight has exceeded $100 billion in 2014,” Kostelancik said. “Figures that couldn't be offset by Putin's Deoffshorization policies.”

Russia has a long history of toughing it out. And now that Putin has publicly invested Russian interests in Crimea, he can't voluntarily leave. Kostelancik said it will not be a story that ends any time soon. This will be a problem we will have for a while.

Putin has generally put a tighter and tighter grip on power since 2000. The former KGB agent has led the country as either president or prime minister since then. Kostelancik says that the United States has handled post-communist Russia with a degree of naiveté. Putin has gradually eliminated elections for local governors, taken over the press and he has reduced the nominally independent Doma [parliament] and judiciary into rubber stamps.

“It all boiled down to one word though, and that is order,” Kostelancik said. “Tradition and cultural order, economic order and global order."

Nationalism in Russia has been reaching a fever pitch lately. Kostelancik said that when Putin was re-elected president in 2012 he outlined the three themes he would focus on.

“I guess at the end of the day, are the areas of cooperation going to outbalance our areas of clear disagreement or friction? To that question, I have to answer no,” Kostelancik said. “Not in the short term. Maybe not even in the midterm.”

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