Over the last several months, Russia has consistently graced the front pages of America's leading newspapers, but for all the wrong reasons. Contract killings, fears of increasing authoritarianism and obstructionism in the international arena dominate American perceptions of Russia. Aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin Igor Shuvalov and First Deputy Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov addressed these concerns and others before a roundtable at The Nixon Center on Wednesday afternoon.
Examinations of Russia's present trajectory demand perspective, Shuvalov emphasized. In the early 1990s, Russia went from a global superpower to a state characterized by food shortages and extreme poverty.
Today, high energy prices coupled with Russia's immense natural resource wealth have created an opportunity to address Russian society's most pressing needs as economic growth approaches 7 percent. With cash windfalls, microeconomic stability remains a top priority, as does improving the nation's infrastructure, specifically within the energy sector. Rising government revenues have paralleled rising public expectations, and the Kremlin must address substantial demands for affordable housing, improved education and healthcare advances.
In response to a question by Nixon Center President Dimitri K. Simes on the future of the Shtokman field-one of earth's largest natural gas fields located in the Barents Sea-Shuvalov made clear that the "license belongs only to Gazprom", though foreign companies would have a role in bringing the gas to market.
However rosy a picture of Russia's economic growth and increasing global influence one wishes to paint, domestic developments and a drift away from democracy remain a sore point for Western observers.
In recent weeks, a cloud of suspicion has hovered over London and Moscow. The death of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko has dominated news cycles in Europe and the United States, augmenting concerns of a Russian return to Soviet-era tactics. Peskov took the opportunity to respond to allegations against the Kremlin.
"Allegations of official involvement are sheer nonsense", he said. "We don't think that Mr. Putin has to prove anything. He is the president of a stable country moving in the right direction."
Peskov also described the goals of wealthy Russian émigrés living in London, stating that they seek to jeopardize Russia's stability leading up to parliamentary elections in 2007.
Serious doubts remain, however, surrounding Russia's level of cooperation with British investigators and its sincerity in investigating and prosecuting the slew of unsolved murders that have garnered so much attention-especially those of Anna Politkovskaya, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikin. These unsolved cases exemplify the inconsistent application of Russian law. Shuvalov recognized the need to strengthen the rule of law to ensure Russia's continued development.
"We have very civilized laws, but they don't work", he said. "In order to work against corruption, we need to be persistent."
Contrary to media reports, the Russian authorities have cooperated with Scotland Yard, but that cooperation must be consistent with Russian law, Shuvalov said. He cited Russian efforts to make Andrey Lugovoi available for questioning in Moscow on Wednesday-with Russian officials present, as the law requires-but Scotland Yard failed to appear.
Russia's role in the international arena was also a major focus of the discussion on the day the Iraq Study Group publicized its recommendations.
"We are standing for stability, political and territorial integrity [in Iraq]", Peskov said. "Turbulence in Iraq is dangerous for our country."
Peskov noted that Russia will not send troops to help stabilize Iraq.
On Iran, Shuvalov emphasized engaging the Islamic Republic and avoiding both sanctions and military actions. "Neither sanctions nor bombing will help", he said. But Russia remains committed to maintaining the current non-proliferation regime.
Sean R. Singer is an apprentice editor at The National Interest.