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Interview of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, "We can’t say that NATO presents a threat to us," Kommersant, June 11, 2010

Question: The Russia-EU Rostov summit emphasized that relations between Moscow and Brussels bear a strategic character. But when it comes to particular steps such as a visa-free regime or the preparation of a framework agreement or to the Partnership for Modernization there are some complications. Why no progress?

Lavrov: I wouldn’t over-dramatize things here. We have made progress in all the areas you mentioned and in many others. As for the new framework agreement, a large number of articles are already textually agreed there and I think that now the main difficulties lie in the economic section. This is due primarily to the situation surrounding Russia's entry into the WTO.

As it is, our European partners do not really want to lay down any principles of trade regimes in this agreement without knowing when Russia will become a WTO member and on what terms. The situation will clear up in the foreseeable future, within several months, because we feel the interest of our WTO negotiating partners, including the US, to speed up this process. True, we even under the administration of George W. Bush heard assurances that everything would happen “this year,” but then we just watched it all fade away. Now there is reason to hope that under Barack Obama everything will be different. So the framework agreement is primarily the problem of an economic section. And I think it’ll all settle down soon.

Question: The work on it will likely be completed by the time of the next Russia-EU summit (it is scheduled for the autumn)?


Lavrov: I will not assume any “socialist obligations.” Over the past six years, many of our representatives have repeatedly stated that just a little more – and Russia would live in the WTO regime. But in the end everything turned out as always. I prefer to focus on results and not on an artificial target date.

As to a visa-free regime, it’s certainly a problem primarily of the European Union and of its treaty capacity. And there should be nothing offensive to our partners here. Our partners had asked us several questions about how the sojourn of foreigners was administered in this country and what measures we would take to prevent use of a visa-free regime by criminal elements. Exhaustive replies were given to all their questions. Moreover, at the summit in Rostov, we gave the EU a draft agreement on the parameters for a visa-free regime, which includes a mutual commitment to provide that regime for citizens of Russia and the EU. Now it’s their turn to reply. And I think that we by this step have stimulated arrival at the next phase of our dialogue. All technical matters are already covered, and European experts have acknowledged this. The agreement now awaits a political decision.

Question: The Russian authorities express a willingness to switch to a visa-free regime with the EU even tomorrow, so it may be worthwhile to do so unilaterally, and thus harder to spur the Europeans?

Lavrov: We prefer in international relations to be guided by the principle of reciprocity. It is laid down in all the basic conventions that govern relations between states. I know instances where a country unilaterally provides a regime for travel or in some other field. But I think in this case it would be fair to expect a quick reciprocity. Moreover, about thirty countries already have a visa-free regime with the EU, including those countries that in terms of criminality are less favorable than Russia. So I will not pretend to be a pessimist, but I will not take too optimistic a stance either. Within the EU there are several countries that for purely historical reasons are not yet ready politically for this (the introduction of a visa-free regime – Kommersant).

Question: They have something to fear?

Lavrov: I do not know. I receive information that some of these countries say: We could agree to this, but why should we do it for just that? Let us get something in return. I do not share this kind of approach, because it is not quite correct. Eventually both we and EU citizens stand to gain; they are also interested to travel to Russia more comfortably.

In the context of specific instances I’ll also mention such an important step forward as the handover to the EU partners of the draft of one more agreement – on cooperation in crisis management. For more than two years we've been talking about this. A memorandum had, in the past, been signed with Javier Solana, whereby Russia had joined the then EU operation in Chad and the Central African Republic. Now, taking into account all the arguments, we have handed over the draft agreement that we hope will help give impetus to this process.

In addition, immediately after the summit in Rostov a Russian-German summit followed. In it Dmitry Medvedev and Angela Merkel adopted a very important statement containing the initiative to establish a committee on foreign policy and security between Russia and the EU, which, among other things, would develop joint activities in the field of crisis management. Chancellor Merkel promised to pass this initiative on to Brussels and help to ensure that it was endorsed by the European Union.

Question: Can I say that, had such a committee appeared prior to the conflict in Georgia in August 2008, this whole situation could have been avoided?

Lavrov: I cannot now retroactively imagine what could have impacted the psychological or other state of President Saakashvili when he gave his criminal order. Of course, such a committee wouldn’t have been a bad idea. But we must not forget that at that time there was also the Russia-NATO Council in place with its ramified mechanisms, whose primary duty is to urgently discuss crisis situations. But when in the midst of the war unleashed by Saakashvili we proposed to convene an emergency meeting of the Council, our partners refused. And we know firmly that the meeting had been blocked primarily by the Americans, by the Bush administration. There is also the OSCE. It has a conflict prevention center, let alone the Permanent Council. This body should have received reports being forwarded to it by OSCE observers before the military operation began. They indicated that the operation was being prepared. But for some reason, these reports did not reach the main intergovernmental body, the Permanent Council.

So, on the one hand, the committee would not have been a bad idea, but on the other hand there were the NATO and OSCE mechanisms, which did not work.

Question: It seems that the idea of setting up an anti-crisis committee together with the EU is an attempt to create a new format of interaction. Toward what model of relations with Brussels is Moscow striving in general? Russia’s membership in the European Union is called fantasy. Participation in initiatives like the Eastern Partnership is also seen by Moscow as humiliating for itself. Is there an understanding as to what we need as a result?

Lavrov: Equal cooperation. And this is the same problem as in our relations with NATO. Incidentally, the Russia-NATO Council in its formal status is a much more advanced structure than our relations with the EU have been hitherto. It was created on the basis of the agreements endorsed at the highest level, which presuppose that all of the countries, including NATO members, gather together within the framework of this body in their national capacities on an equal basis. In practice, however, it does not work.

Our NATO partners agree on a position in their circle, and then set out, with different variations, one and the same line. We are trying to somehow change this pattern. Purely psychologically our partners must step over this very important boundary. But then even such an equitable structure is lacking in relations with the EU. There is no mechanism that even on paper would suggest the principle of “one country, one vote.” But there is a very extensive network of dialogues. For years, we have suggested that the EU and we establish something like the Russia-NATO Council, but not to simply share our assessments or make recommendations but to take decisions. The initiative voiced in Meseberg goes in this direction. The Committee as conceived by the initiators should be empowered to take practical decisions in the area of crisis management, i.e. peacekeeping. How it is going to work in practice, I don’t know. We should wait for the reaction of the EU members. Thought should also be given to how to build the work of this committee and what powers to provide it with. But anyway, this is a step in that direction which seems correct to us.

Question: You said that the NATO partners need to step over some psychological line. But has Russia stepped it over? The new military doctrine of Russia calls NATO the main external threat. Does Moscow seriously believe that aggressive plans are brewing in the minds of NATO officials?

Lavrov: Do not draw information about our military doctrine from the assessments that NATO gives. We have repeatedly discussed this theme with both NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and other alliance members. With the Secretary General we discussed it early this year at the annual Munich Security Conference. He asked: "Why does your military doctrine list NATO as a threat to Russia's security?" I explained to him with the doctrine in my hands that quite a different thing is written there.

First, it is not a threat, as he said, but a danger. And secondly, classified as dangerous is not NATO as such, but quite other things. It is said there that among the dangers perceived by Russia is NATO's desire to project its power capacity onto any area of the world in violation of international law. This is a very clear formulation reflecting the ongoing discussions in NATO about the modalities for invoking Article 5 of the Washington Treaty presupposing collective defense.

In addition – the same Rasmussen has publicly spoken about this – defense of the territory of the alliance begins far beyond its boundaries. Finally, listing the partners for security cooperation, NATO mentions among others the United Nations – as a partner with whom they can consult. But when it comes to the use of force, consultations are not the form to be used with regard to the UN. There is the UN Charter, which states that force may be used only in two cases: if you are attacked, that is, in the exercise of the right of self-defense; and if the use of force has been authorized by the UN Security Council. So, the NATO documents fail to take this into account, which will, of course, have a serious destabilizing effect on the international situation, in which we are not interested. This will provoke the temptation to say: if NATO can do it, why can’t we?

The second mention of NATO among the dangers for Russia is due to the fact that NATO is moving its military infrastructure up to our borders, including in the context of enlargement of the alliance.

So we cannot say that NATO as a whole as a military-political structure is a threat to us. We understand that NATO is a reality that will not go away. And the proposal for a new treaty on European security, which we are pushing on the basis of the initiative of President Dmitry Medvedev, does not presuppose NATO’s dissolution. But it is important to understand where NATO is structurally headed. If it is headed to the areas I mentioned above, this is bad. It is disregard for international law. A chain reaction, I am sure, will follow, and this will be very dangerous.

Question: Why, in your view, is this happening? It seems that in recent years, the atmosphere of Russia's relations with the West has generally improved. And yet all that you have listed suggests the lack of confidence.

Lavrov: I’m not over-dramatizing it. We are trying to change, and I think we succeed. On the other side I also feel the desire to look at things without blinkers. Anders Fogh Rasmussen is just this kind of politician, although not everyone in NATO likes it. Good thing is that the questions you ask, we are discussing with NATO officials openly.

We have clearly expressed our concerns, particularly about what we consider wrong when inside NATO its members are ready to legally guarantee security for all countries of the alliance, but do not want to give any such guarantees outside it. There is no explanation for that, although in the 1990s the heads of all OSCE countries declared that no one would secure himself at others’ expense. If this is so, let us make these political declarations legally binding documents, and thus juridically level up the security space for all countries in the Euro-Atlantic region.

Question: And what’s their response?


Lavrov: Response is that there is no need to produce new documents. No need, they say, to create anything new. But we do not suggest this! We do not intend to alter the statutes of NATO, OSCE, CSTO or CIS. We simply say: let's do what the presidents and prime ministers spoke about – let’s make a legally binding document. The answer, which we expect to receive, will show whether our partners were sincere then, in the 1990s, or all those were merely exhortations so that the Russia of those years would feel respected.

Question: Maybe then stun the partners with a radical approach – up and join NATO. And then play according to the rules that are invented there.

Lavrov: First, contrary to those statements that are heard from time to time on this subject from the West, no one is inviting us there.

Question: And if they did invite?

Lavrov: They won’t. I can’t imagine how it would look. We would have to adopt a membership action plan, report to NATO, go there and stand in a queue. This scenario, for all its attractiveness as a topic for hot debate, is simply unrealistic. And it is not necessary in terms of practical expediency and the practical tasks that we are solving. Our relations with NATO are widely ramified. If we follow the principles on which the Russia-NATO Council was created, we can cope with the most serious challenges.

If you look at the work program of the Russia-NATO Council, it’s an enormous number of activities that are inconspicuous because they do not have much of media value and are fairly technical. But they concern such things as military cooperation, and anti-terror undertakings. After the explosions in the Moscow subway we drew the attention of our leadership and our partners to the fact that for a couple of years now, a joint project has been underway in NATO based on Petersburg scientists’ inventions which will help create a device to keep track of even a small amount of plastic explosives: a couple of hundreds of grams. And it will not be a door frame metal detector, but an imperceptible device. After a few years we expect to field-test this invention.

Or just take the same missile defense system. When there were still no plans by the Bush administration to build a global missile defense system that caused us serious concerns, we had a successfully advancing joint project with NATO to develop a theater missile defense system; first of all, for the protection of peacekeeping troops. It was nearly accomplished, but got frozen because the talk had begun about setting up a third US GMD site in Europe.

After that, Obama's administration scrapped these plans, but put forward an alternative that is now being implemented and which we continue to analyze. Its evolution assumes that by 2018-2020, this non-strategic system can acquire strategic characteristics. Hence it is important for us to understand how this will fit in with strategic stability and our relations with the US in the area of strategic offensive arms. It is important that in the past year, Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev adopted in Moscow a statement on cooperation in the analysis of missile threats. Appropriate consultations have taken place, and they will continue. But we are worried that while the analysis of the source of the threats is being conducted we see being implemented in parallel a program not based on its result, to create the first phase of a new missile defense system with the participation of Bulgaria and Romania.

Question: A year has passed. The results of this analysis could well be presented.

Lavrov: Completion of this work is hindered by the fact that US bilateral contacts are proceeding with individual countries that rely upon US-conducted analysis. For this reason, the discussion about what the NATO missile defenses will be has also been frozen. And if the upshot of all this is that the Americans will shape their conception and it will be approved by NATO, and then they’ll tell us: come on, join this process, it will not be what Medvedev and Obama agreed. We would like to see our intellectual and expertise also taken into account, and we have something to say.

Question: That is, the prospects for a joint missile defense system in Europe remain hazy.


Lavrov: Now we have not yet agreed about that and are trying to clarify how the two presidents’ arrangement on joint analysis as a first step in this direction accords with the actions already undertaken by the United States on the basis of its own decisions, not agreed with anyone.

Question: A chance to clarify it will soon be there – President Medvedev is traveling to the US this month.

Lavrov: Absolutely. This will be one of the topics of conversation, and we associate high expectations with this summit. The relationship between the presidents is such that it sets the general tone for the work of all the other participants in Russian-American relations. Hillary Clinton and I will report on the outcome of the work of the presidential commission, to which the 17th working group has been added, which will be formally announced at the summit. But the main task is to essentially saturate the economic component of our cooperation, primarily in the innovation sphere. No wonder the visit will begin with an informal trip to California, where the Russian president plans to visit companies in Silicon Valley and communicate with those involved in new technologies.

Question: The signing of the START Treaty with the US was a symbolic step, the first real confirmation of the resetting of relations. What will be the second stage? What else brings Moscow and Washington together in addition to common efforts towards nuclear non-proliferation? Can we await accommodating steps in regard to abolishing the Jackson-Vanik amendment and with respect to Russia's entry into the WTO?

Lavrov: The term Reset first appeared on the American side. And we took it as the understanding of the administration of Obama that the previous policy, pursued by his predecessors, must be ended. In this sense we note that the administration's leadership has precisely “reset itself.” Another atmosphere, and unlike the past, the excellent personal relationship between the two leaders is being translated into practical action. Under Bush, the personal relationship was also good, but this atmosphere somehow failed to be passed on to other floors of the administration. With regard to the WTO, I have already said: we think that the US administration is clearly bent on solving all the problems associated with Russia’s final WTO accession on its side. And we will be ready to travel our part of the road. The Jackson-Vanik amendment is just the misfortune of Washington itself, and we no longer make any requests about this, because every president has promised to repeal the amendment.

Question: What's the matter?

Lavrov: This reflects the peculiarities of the US political system, where any congressman or senator who needs votes in his district, where, for example, they produce poultry, links the abolition of the amendment to the purchase of this meat by Russia. And so on. There can be attached endless conditions to the law, which has already become simply a mockery of common sense. It is not our problem. I hope reason will ultimately prevail and we will get a normal trade regime with the United States and will not every year watch the US president using the right not to apply this amendment. It is not applied, but is a hindrance as a systemic psychological problem. It’s the problem of the ability of the American political establishment to carry out their own legislation. They introduced this amendment to help Soviet Jews emigrate from the USSR. All who wanted to, left. Half are back on their own accord. But the amendment is still there.

But I will emphasize that we are bound not only by disarmament problems. I have already mentioned the need to substantially increase the economic component. This is the main foundation of our relations, and the plans here are great. At the end of May a large group of representatives of US innovative companies came to Russia. And they left inspired. They are preparing concrete ideas toward the visit of President Medvedev to the US. Our companies are also preparing serious proposals that could become the subject of joint projects. I hope this work will proceed apace and the theme of innovation will be one of the determinants of our relationship. I will mention one of the projects – the creation of a new large cargo aircraft. Only Russia and the US produce these aircraft, and now the Americans’ planes are at the end of their useful life time and we have the need to modernize the same AN-124.

Question: A peaceful atom?

Lavrov: Yes. This was also done by the Obama administration in the context of the Reset. The agreement on the peaceful atom, sent to the Senate for ratification and then withdrawn, is now again sent to the Senate. This is an important step. Well, the cultural component is another important dimension from the viewpoint of contacts between people. We have, for example, in terms of development of these contacts suggested the following. Now there is the agreement whereby indigenous residents of Chukotka and Alaska enjoy a visa-free regime when visiting each other. We have proposed and await America’s response that all residents of these regions should enjoy a visa-free regime. Hopefully the response will be positive.

Question: Is there an understanding of what our relations with the United States should be to avoid such a roller coaster when they now roll down, now shoot up? Is it realistic, for example, to reach the same level of relations as with France or Germany?

Lavrov: Each country has its own identity and political traditions. The traditions of the United States have significant specificity in comparison with Europe. The same relationship between the executive and the legislature is unlike anything else and allows lawmakers to seriously influence the administration's actions and sometimes create irritants. What is to be done to avoid such differences? To keep your word, comply with the agreements, try not to give in to attempts to knock you off course, and they can be on both sides, and conduct business on an equal basis. In this sense I'll once again note the political, psychological and legal significance of the START Treaty. It is drawn up on a parity basis and it is this approach that we will pursue in our relations with the United States. And as we have seen, President Obama also supports this approach.

Question: Will any particular accords be signed during the Russian-American summit?

Lavrov: We are preparing the proposals; the presidents will decide.

Question: Now closer to the Russian borders. After August 2008 Russia considers for itself resolved the conflicts that existed on the territory of Georgia. But in this sense it is in the minority. So will Moscow live further with this? Is this status quo forever?

Lavrov: For us the question is settled once and for all. I'll take it upon myself to say that it is also finally and irrevocably settled for other serious countries. Simply by virtue of political correctness or other political reasons they cannot officially acknowledge this. I have said, on more than one occasion: that was not our choice; all complaints, if someone still has any, should be addressed to Mikhail Saakashvili, who trampled the territorial integrity of Georgia. Russia had, before he gave the criminal order to kill our peacekeepers and civilians in South Ossetia, tried to help him resolve the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He dismissed that out of hand.

Question: Recently, you stated that, even after the military phase of the August conflict, Georgia had an opportunity not to lose these territories.


Lavrov: When the aim of the operation to suppress aggression was fulfilled and the Russian president gave the order to halt the military operation, the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan was agreed upon, providing the basis for further action. The sixth point of the plan was the thesis about the need to start international discussions on the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and on ensuring their security. We signed up for this. That is, on August 12, 2008, the day on which the military operation was concluded, the Russian president agreed that the status of these regions was subject to international debate.

Question: That is, Russia was not going to recognize the independence of these republics?

Lavrov: We did not have any thoughts that would have a geopolitical dimension. We were thinking about how to stop the killing of our citizens and residents of South Ossetia. We just took a breath and were in the political framework of which I now speak. We were ready on the day of the end of hostilities to continue the discussion on the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The document was agreed. French President Nicolas Sarkozy took it to Tbilisi. And then he rang and said that Saakashvili was categorically against discussing the status of these republics, that for him the status was clear and this phrase must be crossed out. We agreed.

By the way, Saakashvili also manipulated other parts of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan. Because the six points were preceded by an introductory text, which read: the Russian and French presidents endorse the following principles and urge the parties to implement them. In the document which eventually Saakashvili agreed to sign, he not only threw out the phrase about the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but also struck out the introductory part and now claims that the document calls for Russia, inter alia, to discontinue some things, whereas the introductory part said clearly and unambiguously that the two presidents urged the parties to do so-and-so. That’s why it is called the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan.

Question: But what about accusations that Russia has failed to meet the requirements of the plan concerning the withdrawal of troops to their pre-war positions?

Lavrov: The troops who participated in the suppression of the attack on South Ossetia were withdrawn to Russian territory. By that time, status discussions had failed amid revanchist statements from Tbilisi that the war was not over. So by the end of August it was decided that there was no way to ensure the security and survival of the Abkhaz and South Ossetians other than recognizing their independence. And the current contingents of Russian troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are there on a different legal basis – on the basis of the agreements between Russia and the two states recognized by it. Russia has fulfilled this part of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan.

By the way, those who say that we should return to the line we held before August 8 forget that prior to August 8, 2008 our troops stood in the depths of Georgian territory, because the peacekeepers were not only in South Ossetia, which was then part of Georgia, but also outside it. The same thing was also around Abkhazia. Therefore, if they call upon us to advance beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the lines on which our peacekeepers had ensured security before August 8, 2008, I would be grateful if they told us directly so.

Question: After the change of power in Kyiv, perhaps, with no one else in the post-Soviet space has Moscow such complicated relations as with Belarus. For ten years now, the Union State has been under construction but still remains uncompleted. What kind of entity is this at all and why are relations with Minsk so complicated?

Lavrov: Actually a lot is being done there. Our economies are deeply intertwined. The fact that there are a lot of problems, well, you know, the deeper the collaboration, the more specific, the deeper the penetration into the economy of each other, the larger the number of practical questions that is bound to arise. I would not exaggerate the significance of certain emotional utterances here. We need to orient ourselves toward the vital interests of the Russian and Belarusian peoples. They coincide. And it is my belief that the upcoming contacts at various levels will help to advance in building the Union State, among other things.

Question: And when is it going to be completed?

Lavrov: It depends on what is considered the ultimate goal.

Question: A constitutional act and unified bodies of power were earlier discussed.

Lavrov: We already have mechanisms that operate under the umbrella of the Russia-Belarus Union State. Time will tell how it will continue to develop. And of course, it is necessary to proceed from people’s interests and from the realities, especially economic ones, after all. This is the essence of the development of a modern state if it wants to be self-sufficient. The creation of the Customs Union and then of a single economic space will be very important for further integration.

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