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Deputy Minister A.V. Grushko Interview on Russia-NATO Cooperation

Interfax interview with A.V. Grushko, deputy Russian foreign minister on the prospects of cooperation between Russia and NATO, 15 August 2009

Question: May it be said with confidence today that the relations of Russia and NATO, which suffered considerably as a result of the events of August of last year, have finally been restored?

A.V. Grushko: Formally, they have been restored. The work of the SRN (Russia-NATO Council) at ambassadorial level has been resumed. Contacts are being put in order along military lines. An unofficial session of the Russia-NATO Council at foreign-minister level was held in June of this year on the island of Corfu. But for the steady continuation of the joint efforts it is essential to ensure that the SRN operate "in any weather". The candid discussion on Corfu was useful for an understanding by the SRN countries of the need to abide by the principles contained in the Rome Declaration of equal effort and the indivisibility of security--no one should strengthen his security at the expense of the security of others.

We are prepared for pragmatic and mutually beneficial interaction in the SRN. We hope that the alliance also understands the benefits of the organization of relations with Russia not as an opponent, but as a partner, in the security sphere.

The main thing here is the presence of political will. We have to agree with FRG Foreign Minister F.-W. Steinmeier, who emphasized on Corfu that "if it was possible even in difficult periods of the cold war to find compromise solutions, all the more are we now required to find mutually acceptable solutions to current problems." If the NATO partners have such--Russia has this political will--the SRN could become a support structure of the architecture of security in the Euro-Atlantic region. It was for this that it was formed, in fact.

A full "reset" of the SRN will occur only when we are able to jointly arrive at a qualitatively new level of interaction, along military lines included, in response to the real, not imaginary, threats to security in the Euro-Atlantic region.

Question: NATO never did acknowledge that it was wrong in August of last year, when, during the crisis in the Caucasus, it unequivocally supported Georgia. Will the Russians insist that NATO reconsider such an approach and to what extent will the future of relations between Moscow and the alliance depend on this?

A.V. Grushko: Today everyone knows who bears the responsibility for the tragedy of August 2008. We hope that NATO has drawn the conclusions in respect to the consequences of the policy of unlimited support for M. Saakashvili.

We shall not walk away from the discussion of so-called difficult subjects, of course. But practical interaction in the SRN and political dialogue with NATO should not become their hostages. On the contrary, it is important to jointly make the maximum use of the potential of this instrument. At the same time, on the other hand, real cooperation is not a menu, from which this party or the other chooses what is to its taste. Respect for each other's interests and concerns and a readiness to search for points of contact on issues on which there are disagreements are essential, in any event.

Question: Do you agree that Georgia and Ukraine will not become members of NATO any time soon? That many people regard this as a diplomatic victory for Russia?

A.V. Grushko: I would say first of all that Russia does not employ in respect to its partners the terminology of victories and defeats. Whoever argues on the subject of victories is essentially playing a "zero-sum game," stoking revenge sentiments.

Russia and NATO bear a common responsibility for security in the Euro-Atlantic space. That the subject of these two countries' membership of NATO has receded from the political foreground is primarily a victory for commonsense. An additional opportunity emerges for everyone to think about a consolidation of cooperation on the real problems of security rather than untangle the consequences of the materialization of political projects that were inherited from the past.

Question: There is serious debate in NATO about the future of the alliance at this time, it is planned in August to present for discussion a draft NATO strategic concept. Russia has repeatedly rebuked NATO for a desire to assume the role of "global policeman" and has been concerned at the alliance's intention to involve itself in the problems of energy security. Does Moscow continue to harbor such misgivings? Will Russia somehow within the Russia-NATO Council be notified of the progress of the work on this draft?

A.V. Grushko: Russia proceeds in its foreign policy from realities, and they are at this time such that the alliance remains an important geopolitical and power factor in the world influencing security at our borders also. The objective parameters of security on the European continent depend to a considerable extent on the vector of transformation for which NATO opts.

This is why we are keeping a close eye on the process of the drafting of a new strategic concept that has been launched in the alliance.There is plenty that concerns and that interests us--how the alliance's activity is harmonized with the efforts of the international community to consolidate global and regional stability, what the algorithm of the interaction with the United Nations and other multilateral organizations will be, what objectives will be set the alliance's force potential, to what extent they correspond to the rules of international law, whether the new base documents of the alliance exclude ambiguity on the most important question of the use of force. Many questions arise over the intentions to endow the alliance with functions in the sphere of energy security and cyber defense also.

How the work on the new NATO strategic concept is structured will be no less important. For its actual compass and how it is identified in the statements of Western politicians go far beyond the framework of the interests of the members of the alliance proper. This includes energy security, cyber defense, climate warming, the fight against piracy, and even the reliable provision of water resources. If, therefore, the process of drafting of the strategy takes place behind closed doors, with the continued absolute autonomy of NATO actions, this could not fail to arouse misgivings among other states of the Euro-Atlantic region, primarily Russia, and would once again become a test of the indivisibility of security on the European continent. We cannot agree with arrangements corresponding only to narrow group interests that have been crafted by some people in secret then being imposed on all the rest as the "truth in the last instance". Russia would not listlessly "remain in the hallway," waiting for the alliance to draft a "universal prescription" of a resolution of global problems directly affecting our interests also. Global problems require genuinely collective responses.

I shall not anticipate events but it would appear that a certain prospect has emerged for Russia and NATO in the field of comparison of strategic concepts. The first steps in this field have already been taken--Russia's National Security Strategy has been presented within the SRN. Our NATO representative took part in one of the first background NATO seminars on the initiation of work on the alliance's strategic concept.

Question: How do you explain the fact that the idea of Russia's membership of NATO is very often heard at various levels in the international community? US Assistant Secretary of State Phillip Gordon does not rule out such a possibility, for example. How realistic is this idea, in your opinion?

A.V. Grushko: The idea of Russia's membership of NATO is, indeed, aired hypothetically from time to time by certain politicians in the West. Setting aside the populism--our partners are well aware of Russia's position here--a recognition of the need for the elimination of the dividing lines preventing the creation of an effective system of European security and mothballing on the continent areas with a different level of protection many be discerned in such statements.

The question, though, is how to move toward a Europe without dividing lines. The nature of the risks and threats to security has in our day undergone fundamental change and requires arrangements of international interaction different from the inertial arrangement resulting in an expansion of military-political alliances formed in the era of bloc confrontation.

We are prepared to develop normal, full-fledged partner relations with the alliance. Russia is open to the discussion of any forms of cooperation with NATO if such interaction corresponds to the interests of international peace. This was confirmed by Foreign Minister S.V. Lavrov duringt he unofficial session of the Russia-NATO Council on the island of Corfu.

The understanding that the main security challenges for the majority of European states require a comprehensive, collective response is strengthening today. The fight against them may be effective only given a unification of the efforts of all international organizations and states of the Euro-Atlantic space.

The initiative of Russian Federation President D.A.Medvedev on the drafting and conclusion of a legally binding European Security Treaty, which would ensure a qualitatively new and equal level of military-political protection of all states based on the principle of the indivisibility of security, is geared to precisely such a positive unification agenda.

Question: How, as a whole, does NATO perceive the idea of the conclusion of a European security treaty? Many Western diplomats are complaining publicly that there is nothing specific in these proposals.

A.V. Grushko: This is deliberately misleading. Our proposals are as specific as could be.

Multinational dialogue on the initiative for the drafting and conclusion of a European security treaty (EST) is gaining momentum. Useful discussions have been held at a number of key international forums on security issues, which have shown that there is serious interest among our partners, key NATO countries included, in joint efforts in the quest for a new consensus in the field of Euro-Atlantic security, in objective EST debate.

We recognize that what is primarily important for the alliance is to ensure that the process of materialization of the EST initiative not result in a loosening of the security architecture that has taken shape in Europe. Let's say plainly that NATO feels quite comfortable in it. Nonetheless, there is, for all that, a growing recognition among our alliance partners also that not all is as it should be here, that the current system of security is in need of renewal in keeping with the requirements of the present day. This, incidentally, is why NATO is pursuing the drafting of a new strategic concept. A closer definition of its own role and place under the new security conditions, that is.

The EST concept is not aimed at the dismantling of the functioning support structures in the sphere of European security. Its purpose is to strengthen the continent's security architecture, through, included, the unification of the efforts of all the organizations operating in the Euro-Atlantic region on the basis of principles that are shared by all.

I refer mainly to the legal enshrinement of the base principles of interstate relations in the field of security: the impermissibility of the use of force in international affairs, respect for the interests of each state in the Euro-Atlantic space, territorial integrity and sanctity of borders, and recognition of equality as regards security. No one should strengthen his security at the expense of the security of others. It is important that a system of coordinates common to all that is recorded this way be binding both for the states and for all organizations in our common space.

The treaty would hereby create a single field of securityin the Euro-Atlantic region, where all states, regardless of their affiliation to military alliances or otherwise, would have reliable and equal guarantees of the indivisibility of security and where the approaches of particular groups of states would be harmonized with "rules of the game" common to all, not counterposed to them.

Question: Last year's events in Georgia showed that the Russia-NATO Council is essentially a useless format. How specifically, in your view, could this body be reformed and its effectiveness enhanced?

A.V. Grushko: Useless in the sense that it failed to avert Georgia's aggression against South Ossetia and the Russian peacekeepers? If we go by this logic, all formats and organizations designed to ensure peace in Europe are useless. It would be more proper to speak about the responsibility of those that encouraged and prompted M. Saakashvili to such irresponsible action.

At the same time, the events in the Caucasus laid bare at a stroke the shortcomings in the work of the SRN. Although even in the"pre-crisis" period the benefits from dialogue in the SRN had begun to diminish noticeably. The reason was that many of our council partners, contrary to the underlying agreements, had begun to advance increasingly often bloc positions coordinated in advance, shunning objective debate and the joint crafting of decisions. An honest, and chiefly, productive, discussion was not to be expected under such conditions. And in August 2008 NATO's political position was being determined not by an impartial analysis of the sequence of tragic events but by ideology plain and simple.

This is why it is not today a question, in fact, of the need for an in-depth reform of the SRN. The goal is the restoration of the normal mode of activity of this largely unique body based on the underlying principles established at the time it was formed: work in a national capacity and on an equal basis, due consideration of legitimate interests, the joint crafting of decisions, and equal responsibility for their execution.

Question: How far is Russia prepared to go in cooperation with NATO on Afghanistan? Is the possibility of an enlargement of the number of alliance members that are entitled to effect transit to Afghanistan by Russian territory being considered?

A.V. Grushko: Afghanistan is a strategically important sector of our interaction with NATO. Peace and stability in this long-suffering country are in the long-term interests of the security of Russia, which aspires to prevent the emergence of conflict potential on its southern borders and in Central Asia.

Meanwhile, the unfolding narco-situation in Afghanistan has assumed the nature of a global problem and poses a direct threat to the security of countries of the Euro-Atlantic region. The Taliban movement is to some extent financed through the funds obtained from the sale of Afghan narcotics.

The task of countering this threat requires the further decisive intensification of the corresponding operations of the ISAF and an active buildup of joint efforts with regard to the potentials and comparative advantages of the various actors--Russia, NATO, the European Union, CSTO, SCO, Afghanistan's neighbors, and, of course, the United Nations. An example of such cooperation is the SRN plan for the training in Russia of "anti-narcotics" personnel for Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries.
Hundreds of specialists have attended the corresponding courses.

Both Russia and the alliance attach great significance to the mutual arrangements governing the railroad transit of nonlethal freight for the needs of the ISAF reached at the SRN Bucharest summit in April 2008. The transit procedures established by these arrangements are open to all NATO countries. As far, though, as the transit of military freight is concerned, Russia remains open to discussion of this issue also with interested partners participating in the ISAF operation.

Furthermore, it would be wrong to reduce the subject of Afghanistan merely to the cooperation of Russia and NATO. Russia is rendering the authorities of Afghanistan great comprehensive assistance by bilateral channels.

Question: The subject of the CFE Treaty has become a stumbling-block in relations between Russia and NATO. Are consultations with NATO here being conducted at this time, are the Russians meeting with understanding? Is there a chance that a solution of this vexed question will be found in the foreseeable future?

A.V. Grushko: Having suspended the CFE Treaty, Russia sent its partners a clear message--continuation of the ambiguous situation where neither the original version of the treaty (although it formally remained in effect) nor the adapted version (nine years had by the time of imposition of the CFE Treaty moratorium elapsed since the time the Adaptation Agreement was signed) was working was no longer possible. At the same time, on the other hand, having opted for the suspension of the treaty, not withdrawal from it, we left open the door to negotiations on a restoration of the viability of the CFE Treaty. We believe that the SRN represents a good platform for a search for ways to restore the viability of the CFE Treaty, not duplicating efforts in other formats here.

The suspension has forced the NATO parties to the treaty to reflect and to enter into dialogue with us. It is proving to be hard-going, sometimes our partners take a step forward and two steps back and lengthy time-outs. We are not satisfied with the pace of progress toward agreement. The main shortcoming of the NATO members' present approach, though, is that specific steps to accommodate its partners in exchange for relatively vague promises to "consider" Russian concerns and only after the adapted CFE Treaty has taken effect are expected of Russia. Of course, in matters of national security such promises are insufficient. This is why we are insisting that a future accord provide for precise commitments not only for Russia but for the other parties to the treaty as well.

The main condition here is once again the presence of political will. It was thanks to the latter that in the difficult times of the surmounting of the legacy of the cold war most intricate solutions, which permitted the CFE Treaty's emergence and its validity in the most turbulent periods in the security sphere, were found. If the interests of preservation of the arms-control posture are made paramount, the mass of accumulated problems will be overcome.

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