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Kremlin urged to mend ties with West

Associated Press / February 20, 2009
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MOSCOW - A top Kremlin adviser said yesterday that Russia should use the economic crisis to put its relations with the West back on a good footing and moderate its tone on foreign policy.

Igor Yurgens, who heads a think-tank set up last year at President Dmitry Medvedev's initiative, also said that the government should open itself up to outside specialists and ordinary Russians to figure out how to emerge from the country's worst economic downturn in a decade.

The comments by one of the Kremlin's more liberal counselors appear to reflect growing pressure by Kremlin liberals to soften the government's foreign policy stance in the face of the global economic slowdown.

"There should be dialogue with the population, with elite forces whose opinions count, and experts should not be pushed to the back of the room," Yurgens told a seminar organized by the American Chamber of Commerce. "If they [the government] are clever guys, let them win, but let them win honestly."

He said Russia's war with Georgia last summer has further alienated Moscow from the West. The January natural gas war with Ukraine, during which Russian gas to Europe was cut off for weeks, also damaged Russia's reputation as an energy supplier.

"To heal the wounds after Georgia and Ukraine, we have to make symbolic gestures," Yurgens said. "The magnitude of this crisis gives us a chance to put us on a good track. Out of pure logic, we should start talking to the US and the European Union."

He pointed to US efforts to mend fences, including Vice President Joe Biden's closely watched comments this month that it is time "to press the reset button" on US-Russia relations.

"We have to show some willingness, too," Yurgens said. "I have great optimism that we can get out of this crisis together."

Russia in recent months has been hit by massive outflows in capital as oil prices slumped and confidence in the country's fragile economic boom during Vladimir Putin's presidency wanes.

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