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Cablegate: Asd/Isa Vershbow's September 30 Visit to Moscow:


DE RUEHMO #2529/01 2791432
P 061432Z OCT 09 ZDK

C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 002529


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/05/2019

Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Susan Elliott for
reasons 1.4 (b), (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: During consultations with GOR officials on
September 30, Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD) for
International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow discussed
ways to implement bilateral cooperation in a number of key
areas of mutual interest. Both sides praised progress since
the "reset" in U.S.-Russian relations during the first
Obama-Medvedev meetings, though both agreed that concrete
actions are necessary to realize true cooperation. ASD
Vershbow emphasized that the reset needs to be reciprocal and
noted that Iran would be a critical test case. Both sides
expressed interest in further cooperation on Afghanistan,
especially in the sphere of counternarcotics. While the
Administration's missile defense announcement has met with a
generally positive reaction in the Russian media, Duma and
Security Council representatives made clear they had
questions about the later phases of the new U.S. plan and
questioned whether the U.S. would be prepared for cooperation
going beyond information exchange. Russian interlocutors
acknowledged the dangers posed by Iran's nuclear program, but
stressed Moscow's skepticism about sanctions. Throughout the
meetings, ASD Vershbow emphasized that Russia's efforts to
assert a regional sphere of influence posed a threat to the
reset in bilateral relations, and reiterated the U.S.
commitment to the sovereignty, independence, and territorial
integrity of Georgia, Ukraine and other partners in the
region. END SUMMARY.

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2. (C) OVERVIEW OF MEETINGS: ASD Vershbow met with the
following GOR officials: Viktor Mikhaylovich Zavarzin
(Defense Committee Chairman of the State Duma), Aleksandr A.
Gorbunov (Chief of the Main Directorate for International
Military Cooperation of the Ministry of Defense), General
Yuriy Nikolayevich Baluyevskiy (Deputy Secretary of the
Security Council and former Chief of Defense), Aleksey
Nikolayevich Borodavkin (Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs),
and Grigoriy Borisovich Karasin (First Deputy Minister of
Foreign Affairs and State Secretary). He also met informally
with academic experts and pundits and gave an interview to

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3. (C) At all meetings, ASD Vershbow and his Russian
interlocutors noted that U.S.-Russia relations since the
"reset" have been moving in the right direction, with
opportunities for increased bilateral cooperation in areas of
mutual interest. The Bilateral Presidential Commission and
associated working groups will be useful to inject momentum
into our work. However, ASD Vershbow stressed that words
alone or mere information exchanges are not enough, and the
reset must be reciprocal. Both sides need to take action to
implement agreements already concluded and to pave the way
for additional areas of work and to identify concrete
projects for cooperation. Mechanisms for enabling these
efforts need to be established (e.g., the Ministry of Defense
is currently undergoing a major organizational reform, which
has hampered efforts for implementing the previously approved
2009 military-to-military work plan, and both sides need to
ensure that planned events are conducted).

4. (C) ASD Vershbow agreed that next steps must be taken in
other areas where we have agreed to cooperate previously
(e.g., implementing a ballistic missile joint threat
assessment, a Joint Data Exchange Center, and the lethal
transit overflight in support of efforts in Afghanistan that
was agreed to at the July summit). The U.S. and Russia must
be united in addressing common threats, such as the nuclear
and ballistic missile programs of Iran and North Korea.

5. (C) During his meeting with MOD International Military
Cooperation Chief Gorbunov, ASD Vershbow emphasized that
transparency should be a major aspect of cooperation.
Vershbow observed that DoD has been very open with the
Russians about sensitive issues. For example, DoD has shared
information about efforts to help prepare Georgian troops for
deployment to Afghanistan in support of ISAF efforts;
however, the Russians have not reciprocated in this vein
(e.g., their Zapad 2009 and Ladoga exercises).

6. (C) Both Duma Defense Committee Chair Zavarzin and
Security Council Deputy Secretary Baluyevskiy stressed that
they are ready to work on all areas of mutual interest on the

condition that Russia's voice be heard. In particular,
Zavarzin cited the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council
(1997-2002) in which Russia claims its views were ignored,
the NATO-Russia Council (the PJC's successor) in which Russia
"still did not have a full say," and Russia's interest in
working on anti-missile defense since 2000 which "did not pan
out." ASD Vershbow acknowledged that both NATO and Russia
bore responsibility for areas where cooperation was not
successful, but suggested that we need to look ahead rather
than debate the past.

--------------------------------------------- ------
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7. (C) The Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) is in the midst
of major reform. International Military Cooperation Chief
Gorbunov described the main goal of the reform as the
creation of the "most effective military force in the world,"
despite existing limitations (e.g., demographics, large
landmass and borders, resources, and various threats along
the borders). He identified two distinct processes as part
of the reform -- building of the armed forces and control of
the forces. Today, Russia is focusing on building the
forces, including a large influx of civilian personnel in
management and specialist roles, improving pay/benefits of
service members, improving quality of equipment, and trying
to change decision-making processes at all levels. Gorbunov
emphasized that these changes are intended to make Russia a
strong competitor, but also a reliable partner.

8. (C) Gorbunov explained that the reform process is having
a significant impact on the Main Directorate for
International Military Cooperation (GUMVS) at the MOD. The
Foreign Liaison Directorate (UVS) is being closed on October
1, and a new International Liaison Directorate is being
created. Because of these changes, correspondence will be
slow over the next six weeks or so, which will impact the
Attache Corps in Moscow. Gorbunov offered his personal
assistance during this period.

9. (C) ASD Vershbow raised the Bilateral Defense
Consultations (BDC) which the U.S. had proposed for November,
and suggested the possibility of a broader dialogue between
the MOD and DoD on policy and strategy issues to complement
State-MFA exchanges. Vershbow explained that DoD's proposed
BDC topics (including confidence-building measures and
transparency, risk reduction and notification procedures,
expanded military technical cooperation, etc.) were carefully
considered, but we welcomed Russia's suggestions for
additional topics. Gorbunov responded that the MoD agrees
with the general notion of the BDC, but stipulated that the
General Staff needs to identify the right experts to address
topics to be discussed, and they plan to propose other topics
for consideration. He gave no indication as to when a
response would be provided.

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10. (C) ASD Vershbow's meetings with Deputy Foreign Minister
Borodavkin and MOD International Cooperation Chief Gorbunov
particularly focused on Afghanistan. Borodavkin mentioned
that Russia views Afghanistan not only as a threat, but as an
opportunity for cooperation with the U.S. and other countries
(e.g., NATO), and suggested that ISAF could play an important
role in fighting illegal drug trafficking. He recalled that
the U.S. and NATO had participated in the March 2009
conference held in Moscow at which counternarcotics was a top

11. (C) When asked by Borodavkin about whether more U.S.
troops will be sent to Afghanistan, ASD Vershbow explained
that General McChrystal's assessment is being reviewed at the
highest levels. He noted that while the situation in
Afghanistan has not gone as well as hoped over the past six
months, the U.S. cannot allow the Taliban to regain control.
Expansion and training of the Afghan National Security Forces
(ANSF), improving governance, and economic assistance are all
still essential components of the U.S. strategy in
Afghanistan and we will continue to seek cooperation in these

12. (C) Borodavkin introduced a number of proposals for
increased Russian contribution. He said that Russia would
like to launch cooperation with the U.S. on the economic
rehabilitation of Afghanistan and referred to a clause in the
July Summit Joint Statement that without economic
improvement, terrorism and other threats cannot be
eliminated. Borodavkin suggested tripartite cooperation
(Russia-U.S.-Afghanistan) to reconstruct the Soviet-era
Salang Tunnel to provide a much needed reliable
transportation route. The Russians have already undertaken a
technical study on this project and Borodavkin said that with
adequate resources, it would be a useful cooperative effort.
(Note: Borodavkin's staff confirmed that the MFA has
submitted a proposal to the State Department on the Salang

13. (C) Russia considers narco-trafficking to be its highest
priority vis-a-vis Afghanistan. Borodavkin said Russia is
ready to help the Afghan National Police (ANP) and Interior
Ministry in these efforts. He noted that Russia is already
providing counternarcotics training to the Afghans at the
Domodedovo Center, and mentioned Russian counter-narcotics
chief Ivanov's statement that he is ready to provide
increased assistance on bilateral and multilateral levels
such as NATO and the OSCE. Both Borodovkin and Vershbow
agreed that while the U.S. and Russia are currently working
together on this and the related issue of threat financing
through the Bilateral Presidential Commission, we need to
address these problems more forcefully. Illicit financing
has been raised at Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
and OSCE meetings, offering one area of possible cooperation.

14. (C) At his meetings at the MOD and MFA, ASD Vershbow
expressed appreciation for Russia's expression of interest in
providing weapons and equipment to the ANSF, and requested
that any such help be made in the form of donations with no
fees attached, as those charges would have to be paid for by
the U.S. He underscored that some of the equipment/weapon
donation requests provided to Russia are intended to support
counter-narcotics efforts, so the U.S. hopes Russia will be
able to provide this support. ASD Vershbow also asked that
Russia work with the Combined Security Transition Command -
Afghanistan (CSTC-A) to ensure that ANSF priority
requirements are met and provided a list of requirements.

15. (C) Borodavkin said that Russia will be able to supply
limited numbers of weapons to the ANP as aid and will
consider selling more weapons to the ANP and the Afghan
National Army (ANA). He also expressed concern that there
are unlicensed (counterfeit) Russian weapons on the market,
which are of inferior quality. Gorbunov explained that
donating equipment and weapons to Afghanistan is a
presidential decision, which would entail President Medvedev
asking the military services to donate items from current

16. (C) Borodavkin also asked ASD Vershbow's perspectives on
the European proposal for a conference on Afghanistan after
the new Afghan government is established. ASD Vershbow said
the U.S. saw merit in this idea as a means of seeking
additional international support for Afghanistan, but noted
that the timing of the initiative will depend on
Afghanistan's domestic politics; given the problems with the
Presidential elections, conditions were not yet right.

17. (C) Borodavkin mentioned the work of the Afghanistan
sub-working group under the Bilateral Presidential Commission
and stated that the Foreign Ministry is hoping that Amb.
Holbrooke can reschedule his planned visit to Moscow.
Borodavkin requested that ASD Vershbow pass on the invitation
to Amb. Holbrooke.

18. (C) ASD Vershbow also raised the lethal transit
agreement signed at the July summit in his meetings with
Gorbunov, Borodavkin, and Zavarzin. He underscored the
importance of a timely Duma decision now that the General
Authorization has been delivered. ASD Vershbow expressed
hopes that the inaugural flight of the agreement could take
place prior to Secretary of State Clinton's visit to Moscow
on October 12-14. Zavarzin thought the Duma would approve
the agreement without any problem; Borodavkin confirmed that
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working on the request,
but warned that they do not have the sole voice on this



19. (C) ASD Vershbow discussed the recent U.S. missile
defense decision during each of his consultations. In his
meeting with Duma Defense Committee Chairman Zavarzin, ASD
Vershbow observed that the Russian press may have been overly
positive in its assessment of the September 17 announcement,
focusing on the cancellation of the Program of Record rather
than the new MD architecture. While the new phased adaptive
approach to MD does not pose a threat to Russia, there will
likely continue to be missile defense elements in
central-eastern Europe, with an SM-3 site in Poland if the
Government of Poland agrees. However, the physical
characteristics of the new system are different from the old,
and the U.S. believes Russia has no basis for concern that
the system could threaten its strategic forces. The new
architecture will be more effective and be able to provide
protection to vulnerable parts of Europe more quickly.
Vershbow emphasized that the U.S. intends to be open about
the new architecture, citing information available through
congressional testimony and other open sources. The U.S. aim
is to make this a project for NATO because the system is
designed to protect all of NATO's territory (starting in
southeastern Europe, where the current threat is, but
eventually covering all of NATO).

20. (C) ASD Vershbow affirmed the U.S. also views missile
defense as an opportunity for cooperation with Russia against
a common threat, noting Secretary of Defense Gates' support
for cooperation on missile defense. Vershbow emphasized to
Zavarzin and Security Council Deputy Secretary Baluyevskiy
that we should begin by implementing the Joint Data Exchange
Center (JDEC), on which the Russians had postponed a decision
until after the U.S. missile defense announcement. Vershbow
told Zavarzin and Baluyevskiy that linking radars could
follow, which could then lead to broader areas of cooperation
that could be implemented either bilaterally or within the
NATO-Russia Council (NRC) framework. He suggested that U.S.
and Russian experts explore concrete ways to implement
military technical cooperation, noting that such cooperation
would be mutually beneficial and would send a strong signal
to Iran that could help in resolving the nuclear issue.

21. (C) Zavarzin acknowledged that the Russian political
elite has no illusions about missile defense and understands
this was a U.S. decision with no quid pro quo expected from
Russia. Security Council Deputy Secretary Baluyevskiy noted
that the system's planned capability to intercept ICBMs does
raise some of the same concerns Russia has had before.
Zavarzin agreed that we need to identify specific projects to
work on together, but that Russia wants to ensure its voice
will be heard. Both Zavarzin and Baluyevskiy stressed the
need to develop bilateral cooperation methods, potentially by
linking existing U.S. and Russian early warning systems to
gather and share information about threats. They also asked
whether the U.S. was prepared to go even farther, to include
joint technology projects, which would of greater interest to
Russia than information exchange.


22. (C) ASD Vershbow discussed the serious test that Iran's
nuclear program will pose to both Russia and the U.S. in the
coming months, noting that our interests coincide in many
ways, even if they are not identical. The U.S., he stated,
wants to see if diplomacy can succeed, but we need to be
realistic and be prepared for tougher measures if diplomacy
fails. Citing the recently exposed covert nuclear facility
and the recent missile tests, Vershbow described the
situation as urgent, and said that the U.S. was encouraged by
President Medvedev's recent comment that sanctions might
become necessary.

23. (C) ASD Vershbow mentioned that the Islamic world is
very concerned about Iran's nuclear program (e.g., several of
its Arab neighbors have asked the U.S. for Patriot missiles
and other measures to protect them against Iranian attack).
The ability of the U.S. and Russia to work together on the
Iran challenge over the next few months will be just as
important as our work on missile defense will be over the
next few years. ASD Vershbow stressed that if we fail to
stop Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, we could have a
"volatile, possibly explosive," situation in the Middle East.

24. (C) In their respective meetings, Duma Defense Committee
Chairman Zavarzin and Security Council Deputy Secretary
Baluyevskiy agreed that Iran is a concern, but said that
Russia continues to work closely with them and that sanctions
cannot be pursued until after diplomatic efforts have been
made. Deputy Foreign Minister Borodavkin expressed concern
that sanctions could be ineffective (citing past experience
in Iraq) and could have a negative impact on the wider
Islamic world.


25. (C) ASD Vershbow stated in several meetings that our
interaction in the post-Soviet space continues to be a
sensitive issue and, if not handled carefully, could
undermine recent gains in bilateral relations. In this
regard, President Medvedev's proposed amendment to the law on
use of Russian forces overseas has raised many questions.
Duma Defense Committee Chairman Zavarzin said that Russia
will not interfere with the U.S. as it engages with nations
in the region, and that there is no cause for concern
regarding the legislation about use of Russian forces -- it
is intended to protect Russian citizens living in those
countries and that other countries have similar provisions.

26. (C) UKRAINE: ASD Vershbow spoke of his visit to Ukraine
immediately preceding his arrival in Moscow, and cited
Ukrainian concerns about Russian respect for Ukraine's
sovereignty and borders. Vershbow stated that the U.S.
continues to support the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security
Assurances and Ukraine's freedom to choose its security
relationships, and encourages Russia to reaffirm its
adherence as well. He suggested that President Medvedev's
open letter to Ukraine had been counter-productive. The U.S.
favors close and mutually beneficial Russian-Ukrainian
relations -- this is not a zero-sum game.

27. (C) Deputy Foreign Minister Karasin said that Ukraine is
Russia's closest neighbor, and is a "key partner" in
international activities. Russia is not trying to influence
Ukraine, but wants a stable Ukraine and a secure
neighborhood. He also said that Russia cannot ignore
attempts to depict it as a major threat to Ukraine. Foreign
Minister Lavrov will be visiting Ukraine this week to meet
with Ukrainian Acting Foreign Minister Khandogiy and there
even is a possibility that Medvedev and Ukrainian President
Yushchenko will meet at a summit of CIS countries shortly
after that. Karasin said that Russia wants to deal with
Ukraine in a normal way and that Ukrainian citizens are the
ones to decide what they want.

28. (C) GEORGIA: Security Council Deputy Secretary
Baluyevskiy, Zavarzin, and Karasin asked why the U.S. is
providing military assistance to Georgia when it threatens
stability in the Caucasus region. This causes concern and
Russia cannot allow renewed aggression against Abkhazia and
South Ossetia. ASD Vershbow explained that as a matter of
principle, the U.S. will help Georgia protect its sovereignty
and independence, but stated that the U.S. is not rearming
Georgia, as Russia has repeatedly alleged. Since the August
2008 war, there has been no U.S. lethal assistance to
Georgia; DoD funds were transferred to the State Department
for humanitarian purposes. In the short term, the U.S. is
proceeding with great care and focusing on training,
education, and helping prepare Georgia to participate in
Afghanistan under the command of U.S. Forces. At the same
time, Georgia is a sovereign state with the right to
self-defense. We do not accept any arms embargo, and we may
provide weapons to Georgia in the future.

29. (C) Zavarzin made a point of saying that Russia does not
dispute Georgia's sovereignty, but it cannot allow new acts
of aggression; a regional consensus is necessary. Karasin
said that, in Russia's view, the current Georgian leadership
is irresponsible. ASD Vershbow reiterated that the U.S. had
made clear to Georgia that there is no military option
regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia and that the Georgians
need to take a long view on reintegration of the territories.
Karasin noted some successes in repairing relations since
last August, including the Geneva talks that enable the
Georgians to talk directly to the Abkhaz and Ossetians.
Vershbow said that stability in the Caucasus and creating
conditions to help improve Georgian-Russian relations is very
important to the U.S.

30. (C) Karasin mentioned the EU independent report on the
August 2008 conflict in Georgia, which had just been released
on the afternoon of September 30. ASD Vershbow mentioned
that he looked forward to reading the report and stressed
that even if we do not agree completely on the report's
findings, we need to look ahead and promote stability in the
region, including an international presence in the
territories. Karasin said that international presence in
Abkhazia and South Ossetia must be discussed with the Abkhaz
and the Ossetians (not the Russians). Russia has "bilateral
agreements" with them, and Russian border guards are
protecting them to help restore stability.

31. (C) Karasin asked whether the U.S. intends to establish
a military presence in Georgia by contributing personnel to
the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM). This would be a serious
problem for Russia, as they believe it would send the wrong
message to President Saakashvili that he could use force
again. ASD Vershbow said there has been lots of speculation
on this subject that was not based on fact. If the EUMM did
make such a request in the future, the U.S. would consider
it, but this would likely involve civilian monitors.
Vershbow added that Russia needs to fully withdraw its forces
from positions beyond the line of the outbreak of hostility,
per the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement, since this non-compliance
was a continuing source of tension. Karasin insisted that

Russia was in compliance, while acknowledging that the U.S.
does not see it that way.


32. (C) EUROPEAN SECURITY TREATY: In response to
Baluyevskiy's inquiry about President Medvedev's proposed
European Security Treaty, ASD Vershbow acknowledged there
could be ways to improve the effectiveness of existing
conflict-prevention mechanisms, but that the U.S. and most of
our allies did not see a need for new structures or a new
treaty. However, the U.S. is ready to engage with Russia on
this issue in the Corfu process and other fora.

33. (C) CENTRAL ASIA: Karasin inquired about the Manas
Transit Center and the numbers of U.S. military personnel
that would be deployed under the new arrangement. ASD
Vershbow said that he did not have precise figures. However,
in contrast with the previous agreement, security for the
facility is now being provided by the Kyrgyz, which reduced
the U.S. presence somewhat.

34. (U) ASD Vershbow has cleared this cable.

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