19th Plenum Advisory
"October 18, 2004 ADVISORY SUBJECT: Postponement of the 19 th Plenum
of the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs
For the second time
in the past six months, the American Chairman of the U.S.Russia Joint
Commission on POW/MIAs (USRJC) has found it necessary to postpone the
Commission's 19 th Plenum. Both postponements have been caused by disarray
on the Russian side associated with post-election reorganization within
the Russian Government.
In March 2004, the Russian people elected Vladimir Putin to his second
term as the President of the Russian Federation. Almost immediately
following this election, the Russian Government began a detailed and
thorough reorganization of the Presidential Administration and the ministries
within the Russian executive branch of government. This has resulted
in the elimination of numerous positions, staffs, and individuals from
the government1s lineup.
For months before
the March Russian presidential election, the U.S. side was planning
to host the 19 th Plenum of the USRJC in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
The U.S. side considered this plenum, scheduled for May 26-27, 2004,
extraordinarily important, since the Joint Commission had not met in
plenary session for 18 months, 1 and many issues had accumulated. Reorganization-associated
disarray on the Russian side, however, made it impossible for the Russian
delegation to receive permission from the Presidential Administration
to travel to Germany, and the U.S. side reluctantly decided to postpone
the 19 th Plenum, re-scheduling it for November 9-10, 2004, in Washington,
In May 2004, Mr.
Jennings and Congressman Sam Johnson signed a joint letter to President
Putin urging that the Russian Government retain the staff of the Joint
Commission during its government reorganization. The American Ambassador
in Moscow, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, strongly endorsed this letter
and the positions taken in support of retaining the Russian staff.
In summer 2004,
two developments - one positive, the other quite negative - affected
Commission operations. In June, 2004, President Bush appointed the Honorable
Jerry D. Jennings as American Chairman of the USRJC. This positive development,
however, was countered on the Russian side by the elimination of the
staff supporting the Russian side of the USRJC. This office, located
in the Presidential Administration, was closed and its six staff members
were dismissed by July 2004. Though the Russian structure of commissioners
(47 in all) remains in place, the staff through which the U.S. side
works routinely to accomplish its mission in the Russian Federation
has ceased to exist.
On July 8, 2004,
Mr. Jennings invited 20 Russian commissioners and technical experts
to attend the re-scheduled 19 th Plenum in Washington from November
9-10. He secured the agreement of his Russian counterpart, General-Major
Vladimir Zolotarev, to support this plenum, and the U.S. side completed
all the complex administrative, logistical, and substantive arrangements
for this plenum. Recognizing the increased time required to secure U.S.
visas in the post-9/11 environment, the U.S. side established late September
as the deadline for processing visa applications for Russian attendees
at the November plenum.
American appeals, by mid-September the Russian Presidential Administration
still had not given its permission for a Russian delegation to travel
to the United States for the 19 th Plenum. During his visit to Moscow
from September 19-23, 2004, Mr. Jennings raised this problem with senior
Russian officials, calling for an early decision on this question. He
sought support from a number of influential Russian officials, including
his Russian counterpart (General Zolotarev), senior Ministry of Foreign
Affairs officers, several Deputies of the Russian State Duma (the lower
house of the Russian legislature), and well-connected leaders of two
large Russian veterans organizations. Most importantly, he met with
a senior official of the Russian Security Council and received from
him an assurance that a decision on dispatching a Russian delegation
to the 19 th Plenum would be forthcoming quickly. With these assurances
in hand, the U.S. side finalized its plans for the plenum.
8, less than one month before the Russian delegation was scheduled to
depart Moscow to travel to the 19 th Plenum, the U.S. side still had
not received notification that a Russian delegation would be permitted
to travel. Even if a decision had been forthcoming immediately, 2 the
U.S. side judged that the time remaining to process visa applications
was not sufficient to guarantee the receipt of U.S. visas for Russian
attendees in time. Good stewardship of the U.S. Government funds required
postponement to avoid committing the government to a sizeable expenditure
in forfeited reservations.
Mr. Jennings decided
on October 8, 2004, to postpone the 19 th Plenum a second time. He dispatched
a letter to General Zolotarev, including copies to all officials with
whom he met in Moscow in mid-September, advising the Russian side about
Mr. Jennings has
proposed convening the 19 th Plenum in Moscow in May 2005. This timeframe
and venue offer two advantages. First, holding the plenum in Moscow
will preclude the need to arrange travel by the Russian side of the
Commission. Secondly, the Russian Federation will be celebrating the
60 th anniversary of victory in World War II in May next year. This
would be a favorable time for the Commission to convene in conjunction
with this celebration, and it will position the U.S. side of the USRJC
to facilitate participation by American veterans groups in these World
War II celebrations. The U.S. side hopes to benefit from favorable publicity
for the work of the Joint Commission among the Russian public during
this timeframe, and it also hopes to advance a number of issues that
have accumulated since the 18 th Plenum. Planning already is underway
on the U.S. side for the May 2005 convocation of the 19 th Plenum in
1 The 18th Plenum
was held on November 18, 2002, in Moscow.
2 As of the date of this advisory, the Presidential Administration still
has not authorized travel by the Russian delegation.