WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2010 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov opened the door to military-to-military relations between their countries that have been mostly closed for the past two years, Pentagon officials said today.
Gates hosted five hours of meetings with Serdyukov today, followed by a private riverboat dinner marking Serdyukov’s first visit to the United States and the first time a Russian defense minister has visited the Pentagon since 2005, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Gates last visited Russia in March 2008, but U.S.-Russian relations cooled later that year after Russia invaded neighboring Georgia. Today’s meetings went a long way to re-establish military ties, according to a senior Pentagon official who took part in today’s meetings and spoke on background.
Today’s biggest advance was “the renewal of dialogue,” the official said.
“It sounds procedural, but this is something that has been missing in the last few years,” he said. “These are important confidence-building steps to overcoming a legacy of suspicion and mistrust that has not been eliminated between our defense establishments& ldquo;
Gates hopes today’s visit will establish “a rhythm of consultations,” the official said.
The leaders signed a memo outlining the U.S.-Russia military relationship that places defense cooperation as a cornerstone of broader relations, and notes shared threats and similar challenges.
They also signed an agreement creating a defense relations working group that is to resolve issues in armed forces reform and transformation, defense policy priorities and national security, transparency and confidence-building, and regional and global security.
Gates said at the signing that he and Serdyukov will meet at least once a year and that the two nations will have more frequent exchanges among military officials.
“It’s been a pleasure to meet with Mr. Serdyukov, in part because he and I face similar defense challenges,” Gates said after the signing. “We’re both working hard to provide sweeping, sometimes painful, but very necessary reforms in our military.
“Today we begin what I believe will develop into more frequent communication between each other and our staffs, and I look forward to our continued work together,” the secretary continued. “I wish him all success, and I’m hopeful we can learn from each other.”
Serdyukov said the two “had very profound and detailed discussions,” with each offering various proposals.
“I hope we will continue our efforts,” he said. “I hope my visit to the United States will provide a powerful impetus for relations between Russia and the United States. I conclude that our dialogue was very fruitful and constructive.”
The two discussed a range of issues including defense reforms, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, regional and global security, operations in Afghanistan, as well as the northern supply route through Russia and other countries the United States and NATO use as a main supply route into the combat theater, officials said.
Among other things, the leaders agreed to resume bilateral military exercises and a troop exchange that will start with three Russian soldiers attending a U.S. Army noncommissioned officer school in Germany, they said.
The meetings were important not only to build on relations between the senior defense leaders, but also among their civilian staffs and military members, Morrell said. “That’s why you dedicate the amount of time they did today, because it sends a signal down the chain of their organizations,” he said.
Gates, a scholar of Russian history and the Cold War, invited Serdyukov to the Pentagon last year because he felt a “kindred spirit” with his counterpart, who was struggling with similar, albeit greater, challenges to restructure his country’s defense department under shrinking budgets, the Pentagon official said.
Russia has a one-to-one ratio of military officers to enlisted members, and plans to cut some 200,000 officer positions, Morrell said. Serdyukov plans to tour Fort Belvoir, Va., tomorrow to learn more about the U.S. realignment and closure process for excess military bases, and will tour Belvoir’s privately owned billets, as well as the commissary and other “quality of life” areas, he said. Serdyukov also will tour the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
In a discussion of Serdyukov’s actions so far, Morrell said, Gates told his counterpart that the scale of his efforts is very impressive, as is the progress he has made.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)