TRAVERSE CITY — A former U.S. ambassador to Russia says American businesses have a huge opportunity to find new commerce in Russia’s fast-growing economy.
“There’s a huge market in Russia for cars, for services, for banking, manufacturing. The list goes on and on,” said John Beyrle, moments after he delivered a speech to members of the Economic Club of Traverse City on Friday. “Russia has been a good place for Americans to do business for a long time in a way that a lot of people don’t realize.”
Beyrle served as ambassador to Russia from 2008 to 2012. He said everyday Americans should care about their country’s relationship with Russia in large part because of the two countries’ nuclear stockpiles and the economic opportunities the two can offer one another.
“Russia and the United States are the world’s largest nuclear superpowers,” Beyrle said. “They and the U.S. still possess 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons and Russia has half of those. All of the senior leadership of Russia today was trained in an era when contingencies for using those weapons against the United States was a very, very real thing. It never happened because we are pragmatic, but the very fact that that potential exists means that the two countries need to pay attention to each other.
“Russia is a member of the Security Council permanent five,” Beyrle said. “It has a voice and, as we’ve seen, a veto on the major international questions of the security of the world. So you can’t ignore a country that has that kind of a voice. You’ve got to find a way to get them to pull with us on the international rope as opposed to against us.”
Beyrle said Russia’s role in the ongoing push to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile also teaches that “Russia is a difficult partner for us.”
“A sovereign country that has its own view of the way things ought to work in the world,” Beyrle said. “We and the Russians need to work harder to forge a common way forward because history has shown when we are together, as we were in World War II, Hitler didn’t stand a chance. When we are apart, as we have been on Syria and Iran, autocrats and dictators can take advantage of that, as can terrorists. We need to be together much more.”