Russia and NATO are completing preparations for this week’s Lisbon summit, where a key document, the Strategic Concept, will be adopted. In an interview, Moscow’s permanent ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, talks about what Russia likes and does not like about that document, and what agreements are expected to emerge from the summit, which will be attended by President Dmitry Medvedev.
Kommersant: Russia took a long time to accept the invitation to take part in NATO’s Lisbon summit. Why?
Dmitry Rogozin:Our partners have a way of making all the decisions for us. Sometimes one gets the impression that we are just an object, and not a subject, of NATO policy. So when they decided to invite Russia to Lisbon, we said that this was not the way decisions are made. It is not normal when NATO countries decide to hold a Russia-NATO summit in our absence and we have to “tag along.” Eventually we persuaded them to discuss their decision with us and take into account various factors, with the main one being that the summit should not hold any surprises in store for Russia.
We did not want Lisbon to become a second Bucharest. On that occasion, in 2008, President Vladimir Putin put his reputation at stake by deciding to go to the Bucharest summit, which could have put Ukraine and Georgia on a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP). Still, Putin said: “I will go and I will fight. Perhaps my mere presence will give a boost to those forces in the West that will treat us with due respect.” That was indeed what happened. The Russian president’s personal presence at the summit goes a long way to explain why the decision to put Kiev and Tbilisi on a MAP was not taken.
This time around, so that NATO does not paint itself into a corner, we conveyed that we didn’t want any surprises thrown our way. We wanted to have a predictable summit agenda and a predictable partner. The NATO secretary general responded by changing his schedule and coming to Moscow to personally persuade Dmitry Medvedev that NATO’s new Strategic Concept will not contain any revelations that would be unpleasant to Russia. We were almost persuaded that the NATO summit would not see any unpleasant declarations that could spoil the atmosphere.
K: Is it true that the Alliance’s Strategic Concept does not contain anything that might irritate Moscow? Are you familiar with the text?
D.R.: Let us put it this way: they did not give it to us. We can only guess that this confidential document has teeth. In it, NATO claims a universal role and tries to combine two largely incompatible things. First, the traditional functions of territorial defense, which the Baltic and Eastern European states insist on—after all, they joined NATO in order to sit at the same table with what they consider to be civilized states and quietly shut the door so that the Russian bear could not reach them with its bloody paw. The other concept sees NATO being ubiquitous and neutralizing threats to the West on the distant approaches to it.
At the end of the day, I think the Strategic Concept that will be adopted will, on the one hand, reaffirm for the NATO newcomers security safeguards against external military aggression. Russia is unlikely to be mentioned as a potential military threat. On the other hand, NATO will now seek to offer a larger menu of dishes and services and guarantee to its allies: cyber security, energy security, protection against piracy at sea, extremism and illegal migration. The alliance will try to be everywhere, to have the potential to wage at least two wars against major regional powers at once and repel threats on the distant approaches and in advance. Most importantly, NATO prescribes an instrument to solve these tasks. The institution of partnerships will be actively used.
K: Including partnership with Russia?
D.R.: Yes, including Russia. Where the alliance and its partners objectively have common interests, attempts will be made to get the partners to do more and to reduce their own contribution to resolving problems. That is an old and well-known principle. This is what Russia did in trying to weaken the Ottoman Empire: it fostered an officer corps in Serbia and the Serbs, in defending their territory, were thus containing the threat to Russia on the distant approaches. This is roughly the concept NATO is taking on board.
K: Does this approach suit Moscow?
D.R.: We cannot be happy with the concept of NATO as a global policeman. At the same time we cannot but agree that many threats need to be localized and contained on the distant approaches. We are trying to do the same through the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). But we will set one firm condition: all NATO actions involving the use of brute force should be agreed with the United Nations (UN) and should have a UN Security Council mandate.
K: NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen went to Moscow last week to prepare for the upcoming Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon. Is it clear what agreements may be signed there?
D.R.: We are considering several Afghanistan projects, above all, the “helicopter package” [the purchase of Russian Mi-17 helicopters for Afghanistan being discussed between Russia and NATO]. Apparently, possible bilateral agreements on military-technical cooperation between Russia and the United States do not foreclose the need for Russia and NATO to reach an agreement on the “helicopter package.”
K: My information has it that talks on the “helicopter package” have been put on hold and Washington may now buy 20 or so Mi-17s for Afghanistan.
D.R.: This does not remove the need to create a trust fund to raise extra money to implement the earlier discussed helicopter scheme within the Russia-NATO Council in addition to the possible Russian-American deal. That theme is within our purview. The problem is not a lack of political will, but a lack of money. The Europeans are going through a serious [financial] crisis, and for them allocating even a few hundred thousand euros for some projects is not all that easy. They are trying to set up trust funds for these purposes and share the investment burden. So, the “helicopter package” in any case calls for a trust fund because not only will the helicopters have to be bought, but the crews and maintenance people will need to be trained.
K: Reports say that at the summit Russia may agree to return transit of military cargoes from Afghanistan via Russia in addition to transit to Afghanistan, which already exists. Is this true?
D.R. : All the transit countries, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, immediately signed agreements on return transit. Only Russia initially agreed to transit in one direction only. The Russian government is to make a decision on expanding the range of goods transported and on reverse transit. At the end of the day, what matters to us is not whether to agree to what is essentially commercial transit that will bring in significant revenue to the Russian budget. The question is whether return transit will be used to add to the channels of heroin traffic from Afghanistan to Russia.
We do not, of course, suspect the Alliance of transporting heroin; thinking otherwise would be absurd. There are, however, criminal groups that are part of organized crime in Afghanistan, and we cannot rule out that they may have access to the containers, their loading, and their being put on trains. The move may be considered only if the relevant Russian agencies—the customs and the special services—have full access to the content of these containers.
K: Has this condition been presented to NATO?
D.R.: I think it must be considered.
K: A joint document on common risk and threat assessment is to be prepared for the Russia-NATO summit. Is it ready? To what extent and on what points do the partners’ stances coincide and how do they differ?
D.R. : The situation is as follows. The review of common threats includes five issues: international terrorism, Afghanistan, piracy, protection of vital infrastructure and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including missile technology. The review revealed a consensus on four points, but the missiles issue is a stumbling block. Actions will be taken to break the gridlock. A brainstorming session took place at the Russia-NATO Council on Nov.10 with the aim of finalizing the remaining item. It should be either resolved or the parties will agree to state their respective positions such as they are. That, too, is some result.
K: What is the disconnect? Is it the fact that NATO considers Iran to be a threat and Russia does not?
D.R.: The main difference is that we are not going to “appoint” an enemy. We are categorically against demonizing any one individual country, and we believe that the missile defense system should be proportionate to its goal. If we think that medium- and short-range missiles should be intercepted, then missile defense should be limited, first geographically: it should be where the risks are. Second, it is the tactical and technical characteristics of the interceptor missiles. These missiles must not have the capability to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles. To put it simply, if you want to swat a fly on your comrade’s forehead, use a folded newspaper and not a hammer. And third, the caps on the number of such interceptor missiles. The Americans say “no” to all the three points and are categorically against any limitations.
K: Will Moscow manage to convince NATO of the need to sign a treaty on essential forces in Europe?
D.R.: If we manage to separate apples from oranges, then yes. You see, American negotiators are trying to think up new Istanbul commitments for Russia. In the past they wanted us to withdraw our military bases from Georgia, which we did, and nevertheless we got a war there. Now they are trying to saddle us with a commitment to withdraw our military from Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a precondition for restoring the arms control regime in Europe. What is more, they insist that the host country must agree to the deployment of foreign troops on its territory. Essentially, this is a sound principle and we comply with it because we are present in Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the invitation of the other side, whose independent statehood we recognize. The Americans, however, obviously do not like that and they continue to propose approaches that would use NATO’s all-Atlantic position to press us into backtracking on our decisions with regard to Sukhum and Tskhinval. That is impossible. I cannot imagine how President Medvedev can revise his decisions. No one can imagine it, so it is impossible. We find this approach puzzling. That is connected with a whole string of actions. If we manage to explain to our partners that we cannot act otherwise and they understand that this is the “red line” we will not cross, then negotiations on essential forces will begin. The language to this effect is in place.
K: Do you expect the summit to take Russia’s relations with NATO to a new level?
D.R.: The relations are already at a different level. The war in Georgia was in many ways an eye-opener. It showed the West that Russia could make instant decisions to protect its citizens and bring in massive military forces. It was in a way a shock to NATO. NATO for its part sprang a surprise on us in acting to provoke Georgia. But having provoked [Georgian President Mikhail] Saakashvili, the alliance quickly stepped aside. This is a lesson for the alliance, which realized that it is hardly capable of consolidated actions on issues having to do with Russia.
NATO has a group of rationally-thinking countries that understand that Russia is an inseparable part of the common security space and that one should do business with it rather than provoke it. That group of countries includes practically all Western Europe. This is a mighty political anchor that will keep NATO form acting against our interests. What is important for us today is that security should promote modernization and a new level of trust when everybody realizes that Europe has had the last “Cold War tooth” pulled out. I hope the summit will decide to move from discussion to joint actions in areas where we have shared interests. Perhaps a blueprint for future practical cooperation will be worked out.
K: In what areas?
D.R.: In Afghanistan, for example, where Russia and America recently carried out an anti-drug raid that NATO gave high praise to. I think we should also move towards formalizing relations between NATO and the CSTO, which will interact by recognizing each other’s geographical zones of responsibility.
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