Former ambassador to Russia to speak | AspenTimes.com

Former ambassador to Russia to speak

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Thomas R. Pickering

Thomas R. Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and Boeing’s current senior vice president for international relations, probably read yesterday’s New York Times with interest.

One article on “Russia’s Business Jungle” described the country’s evolution “from a brutal form of communism through a Darwinian form of capitalism.”

As U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation from 1993 to 1996, Pickering had a front-row seat to watch as capitalism first climbed out of the muck of the former Soviet Union.

A second article in the Times reported on the battle for market share between Boeing and French competitor Airbus. It notes that Boeing just “reached agreements with three of Europe’s largest military contractors to research a global missile defense system.”

Pickering’s private-sector job is to oversee “the company’s international affairs, including those with foreign governments,” according to Boeing company materials.

So when Pickering takes the stage at Paepcke Auditorium Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. to give a free public lecture at the Aspen Institute, he will be standing there as a man truly at the center of global business and politics.

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And he will be there, primarily, to discuss the status of Russia.

“I’m going to focus on some of the realities of where Russia is and what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has and hasn’t done,” Pickering said in a recent interview with The Aspen Times. “I generally will come down on a favorable side with Russia.”

Pickering has earned the right to offer his perspective on the world.

In addition to serving as ambassador to Russia, Pickering, 70, has also served as U.S. ambassador to India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria and Jordan. He’s reached the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest in the Foreign Service.

And before joining Boeing in 2001, he served as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the third highest spot at the State Department. He speaks French, Spanish, Swahili, Arabic and Hebrew and last month was given an award for “lifetime contributions to American diplomacy.”

Suffice it to say, Pickering is well-connected. And when President Bush met with President Putin in May, Pickering was nearby in his new role with Boeing, the largest aerospace firm in the world.

Pickering’s view is that Putin is taking positive steps to move Russia toward democratic capitalism and toward securing its nuclear arsenal, but that “there is always the possibility of things going south in this world.”

Putin has simplified the Russian tax code and cleaned up the banking sector, Pickering said, but still has a way to go toward cleaning up corruption.

“I don’t see that he has moved vigorously and radically against crime and corruption in his society,” Pickering said. “It is still too big of an issue.”

On the other hand, life in the former Soviet Union has brighter prospects than it used to.

“It has much more in the way of personal freedoms than the Soviets ever allowed,” Pickering said. “It is still struggling to revise its economy, and there has been some growth in gross national product since the crash of ’98. The Russians have endured a lot, and they understand that Putin is working in a reasonable way.”

And, Pickering pointed out, Russians now elect their presidents, and “it’s not a guaranteed thing for Putin.”

Pickering also said that the Russian president has “become a willing ally in combating Islamic radicals” and seems to have made the commitment that the “future lies with the West.”

“They have given us some indispensable intelligence on things,” Pickering said.

His lecture tomorrow at the Institute is free and open to the public. The lectures have been very well-attended throughout the summer, and it is advisable to go early to get a good seat.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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