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Open dialogue against “freezing” of relationships

Date of publication: 30 May 2018 Printable version

Cooperation of archives, cyber security and the role of cultural and people’s diplomacy in the Russia-US relations were the main topics of the Russian-American Fort Ross Dialogue conference held in Veliky Novgorod.

The first international conference of this series took place in California six years ago. The event’s name commemorates a Russian settlement founded in 1812, 80 km north of San Francisco. The Fort Ross museum is a symbol of cooperation between the two nations. The forum annually gathers cultural figures, politicians, businesspeople and political scientists, their key task being strengthening of bilateral relations between Russia and the United States on a non-governmental level. In times of growing animosity between the diplomatic circles of Russia and the US, Fort Ross remains the only venue for an open and constructive dialogue between the countries’ cultural and business elites. During a number of years, the conference has been supported by Transneft, Sovcomflot and Chevron Neftegaz Inc. As was noted by Thomas Leary, Counselor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Russia, we are linked by a multitude of historical and cultural ties which help us make our common history together.

“We are going through a difficult period in our relations, as we disagree on numerous matters. Nevertheless, it is obvious that we can move ahead leading a dialogue and working in areas of common interest. One thing that never changes in the Russia-US relationship is the cultural and educational ties that help us during political confrontation,” Mr. Leary emphasized.

It is remarkable that at the time of highest tensions between Moscow and Washington, Transneft proposed to organise this conference in Russia. The first meeting was held last year in the city of Izborsk, Pskov Region. The sides opted for energy agenda, discussing its geopolitical significance and activities of regional museums. This year the conference participants focused on the possible development of cooperation between Russian and American archives and on global cybersecurity problems. Nikolay Tokarev, the President of Transneft, pointed out that conducting this forum amid the tense political environment is a serious achievement that can be looked upon as a gesture of goodwill and evidence of a firm intention to develop constructive collaboration.

The history of relationship between Russia and America abounds in unknown chapters, so the challenge archivists of the two nations are now facing is filling all the gaps and reconstructing forgotten facts. The problem is that the US and Russian archives have been isolated from each other. Now it’s time to join hands in the search of documents and testimony to historical events of our common past, using all available up-to-date archival technologies.    

As a matter of fact, the participants of the Fort Ross Dialogue conference could familiarise themselves with the Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan the Terrible, the pearl of the 16th century.

Nikolay Tokarev handed the 40-volume Tsar Book published with the support of the oil transportation Company to Andrey Nikitin, Novgorod Region Governor. The Chronicle will be stored in one of the city’s libraries and will be available to anyone interested in history.

This is not the first Transneft’s project in Novgorod Region. The Company has invested about RUB 60 million in the region’s education, children’s institutions, healthcare and war memorials.

In April, Mr Tokarev discussed cooperation development prospects with Mr Nikitin.

“Transneft is a systemically important company for four districts of Novgorod Region, making a difference to their economy and outlook. Today we’ve agreed on investing in the future, we’ve agreed that social support will include buying school buses as well as upgrading college education and healthcare,” said the Governor of Novgorod Region.

A Friend in Need Is a Friend Indeed

The participants of the Fort Ross Dialogue forum concurred that we’d hardly see any improvement in the relations between our two nations on governmental level any time soon. Be that as it may, the “freezing” of relationships between the countries’ policy-makers should not negatively affect relationships in the spheres of business, culture, science and education.

As stated by Daniel Russel, U.S.-Russia Business Council President, business and politics follow different paths and use different logic. The government is often hard-nosed and ready to countenance losses, whereas business is more rational and pragmatic, willing to enter a constructive dialogue.

Transneft is known to have become a target for western sanctions; yet its cooperation with western partners is still up and running.

For example, a joint project of Transneft, Chevron and KazMunayGas for increasing capacity of the Caspian pipeline consortium has been completed. Cooperation within the International Association of Oil Transporters is also gathering pace. Last year, a mainline pump manufacturing plant was launched together with Italian colleagues; yet another plant, which will produce electric motors, also a joint project with foreign partners,  is coming to a close.

This year, Transneft has signed a cooperation agreement with Sonatrach, an Algerian company. The Pipeline Transport Institute (PTI) is building up a dialogue with the American Petroleum Institute. In the coming days, potential business partners from Croatia will arrive in Moscow for negotiations with Transneft’s management.

As was emphasized by Mr Tokarev, the saying “a friend in need is a friend indeed” reflects the way international business relations are unfolding.


Issues of cybersecurity were on the agenda of the second day of the Fort Ross Dialogue conference. The participants discussed the outlook for information environment, existing risks, ways to counteract cyber threats and the possibility of joining Russian and American efforts in this area.

The forum participants shared the common vision: on the one hand, the sides are ready for a constructive dialogue on this highly sensitive and politicised subject of the Russian-American relationships; on the other hand, cybersecurity problems will be solved once global issues are settled. Unless the atmosphere of trust between the sides is restored, any contract signed will be  breached.

“We are all for dialogue and cooperation, knowing beyond any doubt that in the digital realm we have common interests with our American partners. Above all, it is cybersecurity,” said Alexey Volin, Vice Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation. “It is very important for us to join efforts in the crackdown on criminal activity in the worldwide web. This includes drug and human trafficking, prostitution, child pornography, terrorism and copyright protection. But as long as some or other US companies adhere to the sanctions regime, I am afraid we won’t be able to uphold their interests to the full extent in the territory of the Russian Federation.”

Russia and the United States have a wide range of challenges to overcome together. And while talks are put off at the official level, conferences such as the Fort Ross Dialogue keep the window of opportunities open for politicians from both countries.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation is establishing a foundation with the express purpose of preserving the Russian historical and cultural heritage abroad, announced Yury Matveev, Head of the Ministry’s Department of North America .

The foundation will coordinate archival research and raise funds to finance this activity. In the future, part of the funds will be invested in digitisation of archival documents highlighting the Russian-American relationship.


Transneft President Nikolay TOKAREV: The Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan the Terrible is a historical and literary masterpiece.

“The first four volumes of the Illustrated Chronicle created by the order of Ivan the Terrible contain biblical stories. In fact, this is a proto-Bible that saw light 300 years earlier than the Bible we know now, and they are different. My interest in this historical and literary masterpiece was aroused by the fact that the Bible has its own history . 

It took off from there: each new page opened amazing facts from the history of mankind since biblical times as well as the history of Rus, highlighted in 20 volumes out of 40. My interest was ratcheting up and eventually I felt a strong urge to have the Illustrated Chronicle translated into modern Russian.

In the course of several years Transneft helped translate and digitise the Illustrated Chronicle, volume after volume, published it with the print run counting 1,500 copies, and handed it over to large Russian and foreign libraries as well as to libraries of the cities where the Company operates.


Mikhail Shvydkoy, Special Presidential Envoy for International Cultural Cooperation: We’ll see a clear sky in the Russia-US relationship.

“Culture and economy play a tremendous role at the time of reproaches and mutual suspicions tarnishing the relations between our nations. In this domain both the Russian and the American side demonstrate unconditional tolerance and mutual respect, with common sense prevailing. It would suffice to recall the year 2015, when the relations were extremely strained: the Tchaikovsky season at Carnegie Hall was opened by the musicians Denis Matsuev and Valery Gergiev.

I believe the very fact of holding the Russian-American Fort Ross Dialogue gives hope that the current situation will change and there will be a clear sky in our relationship. The main thing is to keep trying.”  


President of Fort Ross Conservancy Tim KELLY: We should cooperate in the spirit of Fort Ross

“Interaction between people is crucial. Hundreds of years ago Russian explorers arrived to a far-off land, being aware that they were all by themselves and nobody could help them. They were exposed to a totally unknown, strange culture, but that did not stop them from founding this settlement. The spirit of Fort Ross is a fusion of cooperation and independence.

Today, we are facing most serious challenges and cannot expect anyone to come and solve everything. We must act on our own, wisely and boldly. We can do a lot more if we cooperate with other people representing other cultures in the spirit of Fort Ross.”

The agreement was signed in the Faceted Chamber of Novgorod Kremlin. Photo by Ruslan SHAMUKOV

Transneft to help State Archive

Nikolay Tokarev, President of Transneft and Larisa Rogovaya, Director of the State Archive, signed a cooperation agreement in Veliky Novgorod. During the last 20 years, the State Archive of Russia repatriated about 125,000 historical documents. For instance, a short time ago it was gifted the archive of Ksenia Romanova, the last Russian Emperor’s sister, which had been bought at an auction.

“We are looking forward to making new acquisitions that will be possible thanks to our cooperation with Transneft,” Ms Rogovaya pointed out.


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