On the Russia-EU summit in Rostov: “There are several countries within the EU that are not yet ready politically to introduce a visa-free regime.”
The Russia-EU summit in Rostov stressed that relations between Moscow and Brussels have a strategic character. But when it came to concrete steps such as a visa-free regime, preparation of the basic agreement and the Partnership for Modernization, complications arose. Why has there been no progress?
I would not dramatise things. There is progress in all the areas you mentioned, and in many other areas. As for the new basic agreement, many articles have been agreed textually and I think the main complications are in the economic section. This is connected primarily with the situation around Russia’s accession to the WTO.
Our European partners are reluctant to put the principles of trade regimes into this agreement without knowing when and on what terms Russia will become a WTO member. The situation will become clear in the foreseeable future – over the next few months – because we feel that our partners, including the Americans, who are negotiating with us on the WTO, would like to see the process speeded up. Yes, we heard assurances from the Bush Administration that it would happen “during the current year,” but then it all faded out. Now there are grounds for hoping that everything will be different under Barack Obama. So the main problem with the basic agreement has to do with the economic section. I think everything will be sorted out soon.
Is it possible that work on it will be completed before the next Russia-EU summit (scheduled for autumn)?
I am not going to make any “socialist pledges.” In the last six years, many of our representatives proclaimed repeatedly that Russia was within an inch of living in the WTO regime. But it all ended in nothing. I prefer to look to the result and not artificially set deadlines.
Regarding the visa-free regime, it has undoubtedly become a problem for the European Union, above all in terms of its capacity to reach agreements. This is no cause for our partners to feel offended. Our partners have asked us some questions on how we regulate the regime for foreign residence and what measures we will take to prevent a visa-free regime from being abused by criminal elements. We have provided exhaustive answers to all their questions. Moreover, during the Rostov summit we handed the EU a draft agreement on the parameters of a visa-free regime, which contained mutual obligations for granting such a regime to Russian and EU citizens. The ball is now in their court. I think by taking this step, we stimulated movement toward the next phase of our dialogue. All of the technical issues have been sorted out, as the European experts have admitted. It now comes down to a political decision.
The Russian authorities say they are ready to introduce a visa-free regime with the EU tomorrow. Would it not make sense to do it unilaterally and thus spur the Europeans on?
We prefer, in international relations, to proceed on the basis of reciprocity. This is enshrined in the basic conventions that regulate relations between states. I know of instances when a country has unilaterally offered a certain regime for travel or in some other sphere. But I think in this case, it would be fair to expect early reciprocity. This is particularly so since about thirty countries already have a visa-free regime with the EU, including countries where the crime situation is worse than in Russia. So, while I would not pretend to be a pessimist, I do not want to sound unduly optimistic, either. There are several countries within the EU that are not yet prepared for it [a visa-free regime] for purely historical reasons.
Are they afraid of something?
I don’t know. I have received information that some of these countries are saying: we might do it, but why should we do it for nothing? Let’s get something from Russia in return in some other field. I do not share this approach, because it is not quite correct. In the end, both we and the EU’s citizens stand to gain because they are just as interested in being able to travel to Russia more comfortably.
Speaking about specifics, I would like to mention an important step forward, the submission to our EU partners of another draft agreement on cooperation in crisis management. We have been discussing this theme for more than two years. At one time we signed a memorandum with Javier Solana, whereby Russia joined the EU’s operation in Chad and the Central African Republic. Now, taking due account of all the arguments, we have handed over a draft agreement, which hopefully will give a boost to this process.
In addition, shortly after the Rostov summit, a Russian-German summit was held where Dmitry Medvedev and Angela Merkel launched a very important initiative on creating a Russia-EU foreign policy and security committee that would, among other things, develop joint crisis management measures. Chancellor Merkel promised to convey the initiative to Brussels and help secure its approval by the European Union.
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On the relations with NATO: “If NATO can do it, why can’t we?”
Would it be true to say that if such a committee had been formed before the Georgia conflict in August 2008, the whole situation could have been avoided?
I cannot speculate in hindsight on what could have exerted an influence on President Saakashvili’s psychological or other state when he gave his criminal order. Of course, such a committee would not have been unwelcome. But don’t forget that at the time, there was a functioning Russia-NATO Council with extensive mechanisms whose prime duty was to discuss crisis situations. But at the height of the war unleashed by Saakashvili, we proposed calling an emergency meeting of the Council, and our partners refused. We know for sure that the meeting was blocked basically by the Americans, by the Bush Administration. There is also the OSCE. It has a center for preventing conflicts and a Permanent Council. That body should have been receiving reports from the OSCE observers before the military operation began. The reports said that such an operation was being prepared. But for some reason, these reports never reached the main intergovernmental body, the Permanent Council.
So on the one hand, the committee would not have been unwelcome, but on the other hand NATO and OSCE mechanisms were already in place that failed to perform.
It appears that the idea of creating an anti-crisis committee together with the EU is an attempt to create a new format for interaction. What model of relations would Moscow like to have with Brussels? The idea of Russia joining the European Union does not appear realistic. Moscow considers participation in initiatives such as the “Eastern neighbourhood” to be humiliating. Is there a clear sense of what it wants in the end?
Equal cooperation. It’s the same problem seen in relations with NATO. By the way, in terms of its formal status the Russia-NATO Council is a far more advanced structure than our previous relations with the EU. It was created on the basis of agreements approved at the top level, which envisage that each country, including NATO members, attend meetings of that body in their national capacity on an equal basis. It is true that it does not always work out that way in practice.
Our NATO partners agree any positions among themselves and then present one and the same line with some variations. We are trying to do something to change this. Our partners need to cross a very important line psychologically. As for relations with the EU, this kind of equal structure does not even exist. There is no mechanism that would assert, even on paper, the “one country – one vote” principle. But there is a ramified network of dialogues. For years, we have been asking the EU to create something similar to the Russia-NATO Council. Not in order to simply exchange opinions and work out recommendations, but to make decisions. This is the thrust of the Meseberg initiative. According to its initiators, the committee would be empowered to make practical decisions in the sphere of crisis management, that is, peacemaking. How it will work in practice, I don’t know. We should wait for a reaction from the EU members. Additionally, thought should be given to how that committee’s work would be arranged and what powers to vest it with. Be that as it may, it is a step in what we think is the right direction.
You said that NATO partners need to cross a psychological line. Has Russia crossed it? Russia’s new military doctrine names NATO as the main external threat. Does Moscow seriously believe that NATO planners are nurturing aggressive plans?
Do not form your judgment about our military doctrine from the assessments given by NATO representatives. We have repeatedly discussed this topic with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and with other members of the Alliance. We discussed it with the Secretary General early in the year in Munich during the annual security conference. He asked me: “Why does your military doctrine include NATO on the list of security threats to Russia?” I explained to him, with the text of the doctrine in my hand, that what is written there is something very different.
First, it is not a threat, as he said, but a danger. And second, it is not NATO as such, but quite different things that are listed as dangers. It says that Russia sees NATO’s desire to project power to any region of the world in violation of international law as a danger. This is a very clear formula that reflects ongoing discussions within NATO over the modalities of invoking Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which envisages collective defence.
Besides, as Rasmussen has publicly stated, the defence of its territory begins far beyond its boundaries. Finally, in listing security partners, NATO mentions the UN, among others, as a partner to be consulted with. But when it comes to the use of force, consultations are not a format to be applied to the UN. The UN Charter says that force may be used only in two cases: if you have been attacked, that is to exercise the right to self-defence, or if the use of force has been sanctioned by the UN Security Council. Well, NATO documents ignore this, which of course will have a serious destabilizing effect on the international situation, which we do not want to see. It could tempt us to say, if NATO can do it, why can’t we?
The second factor mentioned in reference to NATO being a danger to Russia consists of its military infrastructure moving closer to our borders, including as part of the Alliance’ enlargement.
So it cannot be said that NATO as a whole, as a military-political structure, poses a threat to us. We understand that NATO is a reality that will not go away. The proposal for a new European security treaty we are promoting linked to President Medvedev’s initiative does not envisage the dissolution of NATO. But we want to know in what direction NATO is evolving. If it evolves in the directions I have mentioned, this is bad. It shows a neglect of international law. I am convinced that it will trigger a chain reaction, which would be very dangerous.
Why then is it happening? The atmosphere in relations between Russia and the West seems to have generally improved in recent years. And yet what you described signals a lack of trust.
I am not trying to dramatise things. We are trying to change and I think we are succeeding. On the one hand, I want to take an unblinkered view of things. Anders Fogh Rasmussen is precisely this kind of politician, although not everybody in NATO likes it. At least it is good that we are discussing the questions you ask frankly with NATO representatives.
We have clearly set forth our concerns. This includes our view that we believe it is wrong when inside NATO, its members are legally ready to guarantee security to all of the alliance’s countries, while they do not want to allow such safeguards outside NATO. There is no explanation for this, although in the 1990s, the heads of OSCE states declared that nobody could ensure their security at the expense of the security of others. If so, let us make these political declarations legally binding documents and thus legally level the security space for all the Euro-Atlantic countries.
What do they say to this?
They say there is no need to multiply the number of documents. No need to create anything new. But we are not proposing anything new. We are not encroaching on the founding documents of NATO, the OSCE, the CSTO, or the CIS. We are simply saying: let us do what the presidents and the prime ministers have been talking about, let us create a legally binding document. The response we hope to get will show whether our partners were sincere in the 1990s, or whether it was just an exhortation designed to make Russia feel respected in those years.
Perhaps we should take a drastic step to surprise our partners by joining NATO? We could then play by their rules.
First, notwithstanding statements on this score that one sometimes hears in the West, nobody has invited us to join.
And what if they did?
They won’t. I cannot imagine how it would look. We would have to adopt a membership action plan and report to NATO, travel there and stand in the queue. For all its attractiveness as a topic of heated discussion, this is an unrealistic scenario. It is unnecessary in terms of practicality and the practical tasks we are all grappling with. Our relations with NATO are very diverse. If the principles on which the Russia-NATO Council was created are followed, we can tackle the most serious tasks.
If you look at the program of the Russia-NATO Council’s work, there are a vast number of activities that are not readily noticeable, because they have no particular media value and are fairly technical. They have to do with things like military cooperation and anti-terrorist activities. After the blasts in the Moscow metro, we apprised our leadership and our partners of the fact that NATO has for a couple of years been working on a joint project, based on inventions created by Petersburg scientists, which can be the basis of a device capable of detecting small quantities of plastic explosives, several hundred grams. It would not be like a metal detector frame, but rather an unobtrusive device. We expect to be able to carry out field tests of the device in a few years.
Again, take the missile defence system. Before the Bush Administration began planning a global missile defence system, about which we had serious questions, we were making good progress on a joint project with NATO to develop a theater anti-missile system, above all to protect peacekeeping contingents. It had been practically completed, but its introduction was put on hold because discussions began about creating a third position area for the US missile defence in Europe.
Thereafter, the Obama Administration dropped these plans, but it has put forward an alternative, which is being implemented and which we continue to analyze. The evolution of that alternative is such that by 2018-20, this non-strategic system could acquire strategic characteristics. It is therefore important for us to understand how it will be combined with strategic stability and our relations with the United States in the strategic offensive weapons field. It is important that last year, Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev issued a statement in Moscow on cooperation in reviewing missile threats. Consultations have already been held on this and they will continue. But what worries us is that while the sources of threats are being analysed, in parallel, a program for creating the first stage of a new missile defence system involving Bulgaria and Rumania – one that is not based on the results of the analysis – is being put into place.
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On the reset in US-Russian relations: “The US Administration has definitely ‘reset’”
A year has elapsed and it is high time to present the results of that analysis.
Completion of this work is being delayed because the US is holding talks with individual countries based on analysis carried out by the US. For the same reason, discussion of the future shape of NATO’s missile defence has been frozen. If things end up with the Americans forming their own concept and it is approved by NATO, we are being told to “latch onto this process.” But this would not be what Medvedev and Obama agreed upon. We would like our intellectual and expert potential to be taken into account as well, and we have something to contribute.
In other words, the prospects for joint missile defence in Europe are foggy.
We have not yet agreed on this. We are trying to determine the extent to which agreements between the two presidents on joint analysis as a first step and the actions the US is already taking without agreeing them with anyone can dovetail.
An opportunity to find out will soon present itself, because President Medvedev is going to the US this month.
That’s right. It will be one of the topics of discussion and we pin serious hopes on that summit. Relations between the presidents set the tone for the work of other participants in Russian-American relations. Hillary Clinton and I will report on the results of the presidential commission to which a 17th working group has been added, as will be formally announced at the summit. But the main task is to invest the economic part of our cooperation with more substance, especially in the innovation sphere. It is no coincidence that the visit will start with an informal trip to California, where the Russian president plans to visit Silicon Valley enterprises and talk with people who work on new technologies.
Signing the START treaty with the US was a symbolic step, the first real proof of a “reset” in our relations. What will be the second stage? What else brings Moscow and Washington closer together apart from common efforts in nuclear non-proliferation? Can we expect the US to move forward on scrapping the Jackson-Vanik amendment and on Russia’s accession to the WTO?
The term “reset” was coined by the American side. We took it as proof that the Obama Administration was aware that the policy of his predecessors should be given up. In that sense we note that the US Administration has definitely “reset.” The atmosphere is different and unlike in the past, the personal chemistry between the two leaders is being translated into practical steps. Under Bush the personal chemistry was good too, but for some reason that atmosphere did not spread to other levels of the administration. As for the WTO, I have already said that we have the impression that the US administration has definitely committed itself to solving, on its side, all problems connected with Russia’s final accession to the WTO. We will be prepared to cover our part of the way. Jackson-Vanik is Washington’s own problem and we have even stopped pressing on the issue. Every president has promised to cancel the amendment.
What is the problem?
It has to do with features of the US political system, when every Representative or Senator who needs votes in his constituency which, for example, produces chicken meat, links repeal of the amendment to Russia buying this meat. And so on. One can attach endless conditions to the act, which has become a travesty of common sense. This is not our problem. I hope that reason will prevail and we will have a normal trade regime with the US, and not have to look every year at how the US president is exercising his right not to apply the amendment. It is not applied, but it gets in the way as a systemic psychological problem – a problem of the ability of the American political system to comply with its own legislation. The amendment was introduced to help Soviet Jews leave the USSR. Everyone who wanted to leave has left, half of them have returned of their own accord, and the amendment is still there.
But let me stress that we share other things besides disarmament problems. I mentioned the need to boost the economic part of our relationship. This is the foundation of our relations and we have ambitious plans in this area. A large group of innovative American companies came to Russia at the end of May. They came away inspired. They are preparing concrete ideas for President Medvedev’s visit to the US. Our companies are also preparing serious proposals which may lead to joint projects. I hope this work will proceed quickly and the innovation topic will be high on the agenda of our relations. Let me mention one such project, the creation of a large transport plane. Only Russia and the US make such planes, and the life span of the American machines is coming to an end, while we need to modernise our An-124, for example.
What about peaceful nuclear energy cooperation?
Yes, the Obama Administration has made this part of the reset. The agreement on peaceful uses of atomic energy was sent to the Senate for ratification and then withdrawn, and now it has been sent to the Senate once again. That is an important step. And the cultural element adds an important dimension in terms of human contacts. We have made a suggestion regarding the promotion of such contacts. There is an agreement today whereby the indigenous inhabitants of Chukotka and Alaska would not need visas to visit one another. We have proposed, and we are waiting for the American reaction, that all the citizens of these regions be covered by a visa-free regime. We hope for a positive reaction.
Is there any clarity on how to prevent relations with the US being a roller-coaster ride? Can we realistically reach a level of relations similar to that we have with France or Germany?
Every country has its political face and political traditions. The traditions in the US are in many ways different from those of Europe. For instance, the relations between the executive and legislative branches are unlike anywhere else and they enable legislators to seriously influence the actions of the presidential administration and sometimes create irritants. What can we do to avoid ups and downs in relations? Keep one’s word, comply with agreements, try to resist attempts to push things off course – and such attempts can be made from one or the other side – and proceed on the basis of equality. In this connection, I would stress again the political, psychological and legal significance of the START treaty. It has been developed on the basis of parity, and this is the kind of approach we will promote in our relations with the US. We see that President Obama is supportive of such an approach.
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On Abkhasia and South Ossetia: “Saakashvili was against discussing the status of these republics. We went along with this.”
Are any specific agreements going to be signed during the Russian-American summit?
We are preparing proposals and it is up to the presidents to decide.
Moving closer to Russia, after August 2008, Russia’s position was that the conflicts with Georgia had been resolved. But Russia is in the minority in this view. Will Moscow go on living with this situation? Will this be the status quo forever?
For us, the issue has been solved finally and irrevocably. I will be so bold as to say that it has been solved finally and irrevocably for other serious countries. They simply cannot officially recognise it because of political correctness or for other political reasons. I have said more than once that it was not our choice and that any remaining claims should be addressed to Mikhail Saakashvili, who has trampled Georgia’s territorial integrity underfoot. Before he gave his criminal order to kill our peace-keepers and South Ossetian civilians, we tried to help him settle the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He resisted all of that.
You said recently that Georgia had a chance to retain these territories even after the military phase of the August conflict was over.
Once the operation to repel aggression was successfully completed and the Russian president ordered a halt to military operations, the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan laid the basis for further actions. Its sixth point spoke of the need to begin international discussions to determine the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and ensure their security. We signed up for this. So, on August 12, 2008, when the military operation ended, the Russian president agreed that the status of these regions should be discussed internationally.
In other words, Russia was not going to recognise the independence of these republics?
We never had any thoughts that had a geopolitical dimension. We only thought about how to stop the killing of our citizens and the citizens of South Ossetia. We had barely paused for breath and had entered the political framework I have just described. We were ready on the day hostilities ended to continue discussions on the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The document had been agreed. French President Nicolas Sarkozy took it to Tbilisi. And then he called us and said that Saakashvili was categorically against discussing the status of these republics, that he was quite clear on their status and that this sentence should be deleted. We went along with it.
Incidentally, Saakashvili manipulated other parts of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, too. The six points were preceded by an introduction which said the presidents of Russia and France had approved the following principles and called on the parties to comply with them. In the document that Saakashvili eventually agreed to sign, he threw out not only the phrase about the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but he deleted the introductory part and now claims that the document calls for a halt to certain things, including on Russia’s part. Meanwhile the introduction said in no uncertain terms that the two presidents were calling on the parties to do this and that. That is why it was called the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan.
What about accusations that Russia has failed to comply with the plan’s requirement to withdraw its troops to their prewar positions?
The troops that took part in repelling the attack on South Ossetia have been pulled back to Russian territory. By that time, the discussion on status had failed and Tbilisi had started making revanchist claims that the war was not over. That is why by the end of August, it was decided that there was no other way to ensure the security and survival of the Abkhaz and South Ossetians other than to recognise their independence. The present contingents of Russian troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are there legally on the basis of agreements between Russia and the two states it has recognized. Russia has complied with that part of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan.
By the way, those who say that we should have pulled back to the pre-August 8 line forget that before August 8, 2008, our troops were stationed inside Georgian territory, because we had our peacekeepers not only in South Ossetia, which was part of Georgia, but also outside it. The same holds true for Abkhazia. Therefore, if we are being urged to move outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the lines where our peace-keepers ensured security before August 8, 2008, I would appreciate it if we were told so in so many words.
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