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Ambassador Kelly talks US-Russia relations

On Thursday, Nov. 20, Ambassador Ian Kelly gave a lecture titled “The U.S., Russia and Bridging the East-West Divide” to students, faculty and community members in ARH 302. The Rosenfield Program sponsored the talk.

Kelly is a former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and has held positions for the Department of State throughout Europe, including in Rome, Ankara, Belgrade and Moscow.

Currently, Kelly works as the Diplomat in Residence for the Midwest, based at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In this position, Kelly specializes in recruiting college students who are interested in foreign services or working for the Department of State, and as a result Kelly has visited the College regularly over the past two years.

“We’re part of his territory. The State Department is interested in getting great students from Grinnell to apply to the State Department … he’s the only one with whom we have that formal relationship,” said Sarah Purcell, Professor of History and Director of the Rosenfield Program.

Although Kelly has worked closely with the Rosenfield Program and the Center for Careers, Life and Service regarding internship and career opportunities within his field, this was Kelly’s first formal lecture given at Grinnell.

“This [event] is combining his academic expertise in Russia and his recent diplomatic experience dealing with European security,” Purcell said.

Kelly began by clarifying that his presentation would be a reflection of his own opinions and experiences, not the organizations that he works for.

“I have to do a public service announcement … what I’m about to say does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government,” he said.

Kelly described the recent issues in Ukraine as the main source of concern for European and NATO powers regarding international security and Russian aggression, stemming from the refusal of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s previous president, to sign the Association Agreement. Kelly said that this was essentially a trade agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, and that Russia pressured Ukraine against forming close relations with the EU.

Kelly explained that in order to deter Ukraine, Russia offered a number of incentives, including a $15 billion no-strings loan to Ukraine to help fill its economic deficit. However, Yanukovych’s refusal came without any discussion with the public or Ukraine’s legislative branch. This contributed to great social unrest and ultimately open violence, he said.

“I think Putin’s goal is actually quite simple. His goal, which I think has evolved over the last year or so … is to prevent Ukraine from joining Europe and keep Ukraine in Moscow’s orbit,” Kelly said.

In order to do this, Putin utilized tactics that Kelly calls the “two D’s,” dismemberment and delegitimization. Kelly added that Putin’s annexation of Crimea, support for separatist groups and placement of military presence within former USSR states who wish to join the EU or NATO are all intentional efforts of dismemberment. As for delegitimization, Russia has used “emotionally charged terms,” such as fascist and neo-Nazi, in allegations toward Ukraine to justify Russian movement within the territory as protecting ethnic Russian peoples.

Kelly concluded his lecture by discussing the many critical roles the United States plays in mediating such conflicts.

“One [option] to impose costs for these violations … is basically have very targeted sanctions against individuals and against some corporations and financial institutions,” he said. “The reason for this is that Russia wants to play by the international integration game and wants to benefit economically from the international order, and it has, but it can’t play by one rule in the economy and play by another rule politically.”

Additionally, he said that the United States could further reiterate its commitment to Article 5 of the NATO agreement, which states that an attack on any member of NATO is an attack on all members. Kelly explained that this should deter Russia from further violations in Eastern Europe.

“I think if we accept that Putin’s goal is to prevent Ukraine from joining Europe, he can accomplish that by doing what he did in Georgia and Moldova, which is undermining their sovereignty,” Kelly argued. “I don’t think he wants to start a full-scale war … that would be too costly.”

Following his lecture, Chris Lee ’15 asked Kelly to elaborate further on Russia’s current financial situation. Kelly responded that despite Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, currently worth about $450 billion, its current financial problems revolve primarily around the falling value of the ruble and the falling price of oil, which Russia depends upon for most of its state budget.

A community member then posed a question, asking Kelly if “this is primarily a Putin ego thing?”

Kelly responded that it is difficult to speculate on the thoughts of government leaders, but he said the events in Ukraine have definitely shaped Putin’s current policies.

“I see a big difference between the Putin of pre-2012 and after 2012. I think that he was really quite concerned about the reaction to the elections … that tens of thousands of people came out into the streets to protest … I think it was at that moment that he decided that he basically lost Moscow to St. Petersburg,” Kelly said. “I think what he has decided to try and do is appeal to nationalist instincts … what you’re seeing now is very, very obtuse anti-Western propaganda and very obtuse patriotic propaganda.”

Kelly added that Putin’s change in policy has not gone unnoticed by domestic or international powers.

“I just have to believe that people around Putin think that they have overreached a little bit, especially given their economic costs. But as my boss at NATO used to say, hope is not a policy,” Kelly said.

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