Opening Remarks and Answers by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Press Conference after the Meeting of the Russia-NATO Council at Foreign Affairs Ministers Level, Brussels, December 8, 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held a regular Foreign Minister-level meeting of the Russia-NATO Council. The conversation dealt mainly with the implementation of the decisions reached at the RNC Lisbon summit in 2010. Then the leaders of the member states set the task of building a strategic partnership based on mutual trust, transparency and predictability. We also agreed to move towards the creation of a space of peace, stability and equal security for all in the Euro-Atlantic region. We presume that the decisions taken by the Heads of State and Government are to be implemented.
Quite a lot has been accomplished over the past year. Cooperation is being actively developed in the field of combating terrorism and piracy. We are interacting more effectively on a number of areas related to the challenges emanating from Afghanistan to our common and indivisible security. We would like to further intensify joint efforts in the sphere of fighting drug trafficking, which would be facilitated by establishing cooperation between NATO and the CSTO. Today we are reminded our partners of this long-standing Russian proposal. We expressed the hope that it will be considered on the basis of our common interests.
However, listing the positive aspects of our relationship, we today also openly talked about the fact that on a number of fundamental questions our partners are not yet ready for serious cooperation. Here in the first place I will put the problem of missile defense.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in his November 23 statement exhaustively expounded our position. We are ready for dialogue with mutual regard for the legitimate interests of all parties involved. But if the Russian concerns are not taken into account, we will take appropriate action based on the developments at each phase of implementation of the US Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense. Our priority is to preserve strategic stability in conditions of the creation of a missile defense system. This determines our plans. We want to have clear-cut guarantees that the deployable antimissile facilities will not work against Russia’s strategic potential and will not have the appropriate capabilities.
We thoroughly told the colleagues how we envision a solution to this problem. Such guarantees should be based on objective criteria that would allow for assessing whether the missile defense system squares with its stated aim – to counter limited missile challenges originating outside of Europe. We need objective criteria confirming that the purpose of this system during its formation and operation will be exactly the sources of threat outside of Europe, and not something else. We believe there is still time to find mutually acceptable solutions. But it becomes less and less with each passing day.
Another important issue that we discussed – lessons from the recently concluded Libyan operations of the North Atlantic Alliance. We restated our rejection of the methods of implementing the mandate contained in the UNSC resolutions. The arms embargo on Libya and the no-fly zone were openly being violated and direct combat air support was being provided to one side in the civil war – let alone the other well-known facts, including the sending of foreign special forces to aid the rebels. We are not saying this to argue with our partners, but to understand by what methods the new strategic concept for NATO will be carried out in practice. When it was being developed, we received assurances that the Alliance would piously observe international law and respect the role of the UN. We had a useful discussion today, given that some of our partners suggest the so-called “Libyan model” be viewed as the prototype for the future. We flatly object to this. I’m convinced that the UN Security Council will clearly articulate the implementation methods for its resolutions in the future.
We also talked about the problem of conventional arms control in Europe. The problem remains as it was several years ago. We were never able to break the impasse that has developed as a result of the crisis in our relations due to NATO’s refusal to ratify the Agreement on Adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Our proposals are known. We have long since circulated a framework document that enumerates the issues to be addressed through negotiations on a new document on conventional arms control. Preconditions that our partners are trying to put forth don’t help the cause. All issues requiring solution must be listed as columns in the agenda. This approach was used to start work on the Russian-US New START Treaty. The method has acquitted itself.
Today, a common desire was voiced to continue down the path of implementation of the Lisbon Summit decisions. I hope everyone understands that you need to build a united, undivided, equal security for all, taking into account the concerns of each participant in this process. Indivisible security is not a menu from which you can choose the dish of your liking and decline what you do not want. This is not the approach that can be used here. We will work together. The Russian position is open; we do not hide our thoughts and intentions. Today our partners appreciated the frank conversation and said it was in the spirit of the Lisbon agreement. We must honestly talk to each other about our concerns and try to troubleshoot them.
Question: Recently, the US Permanent Representative to NATO said that the Alliance is ready to accept the sectoral approach in an adapted version. Sergey Viktorovich, how would you comment on that?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: This approach is not new. NATO officials say they cannot entrust the security of its member countries to other states. So they will “cover” the territory of the states of the Alliance. In turn, we count on respect for our reciprocal right to secure our territory solely by our own means. When the planned elements of NATO missile defense are so placed as to make it possible to scan a considerable part of the territory of Russia, it raises questions for us. In addition to the general words about trust and the anti-missile system not being aimed at Russia, we need a legally binding agreement. Good intentions are a temporary thing; military-technical potential is a constant.
Question: Could you list the objections that Russia has regarding NATO’s missile defense?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: We’ve already talked in detail about our complaints about the missile defense plan developed for Europe as part of the US global anti-missile project, which will soon be approved by NATO in an unchanged form.
Without going into the technical details and nuances, I will give you an example. The United States has reached an agreement with Turkey on deploying powerful radar there. If they needed a radar station for observation south of the territories of the NATO countries, it already exists, has long been running and tracks the space from where, according to American colleagues, a threat emanates. The radar planned to be installed in Turkey, however, would duplicate the existing one and simultaneously scan a significant part of Russia. We invite our partners to sit down at the negotiating table and to analyze the threats and methods to neutralize them, as well as the possibility of solving the problems by diplomatic and political means. But our partners do not want to discuss these issues, giving as a reason that everything is already decided, and that the proposed scheme is ideal. When we present evidence that the system poses risks, especially for Russia, they reiterate to us that it is not directed against the Russian side. President Dmitry Medvedev has given a detailed commentary on this matter. If you invite the Russian side to co-operate and see it as a potential strategic partner, as confirmed in the Lisbon agreements, then we expect your respect for our intellectual capacity and the military expertise that Russia has.
Question: We all understand your concern associated with the implementation of the UNSC resolution on Libya. At the same time are you not afraid that the Russian position on Syria after a while might turn out to be on the wrong side of history?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: If some of our Western partners believe that to violate a UN Security Council resolution is to stand on the “right side of history,” Russia and many other countries have a diametrically opposed view. We should not consider the processes occurring in the Middle East in terms of geopolitical interests of any group of states. We must, finally, overcome this mentality and assess the implications of what is happening.
Of course, the people should determine the fate of their country. All others must facilitate this process. To do so, it’s necessary to induce a dialogue between all political, ethnic, religious and other forces in the country where crisis phenomena start arising. You shouldn’t choose “favorites” in specific countries and then try to dissuade them from dialogue, explaining that by the illegitimacy of the existing government. Opposition forces incited in this way expect that they will be helped to change the regime, as was the case in Libya. This path does not evoke respect among people who are used to conducting business honestly and facilitating stabilization of the various conflicts within society, in the family or on the international scene. It is wrong to ignore the dangers inherent in the current trend. Ultimately, the underlying processes can surface and blow up an enormous geopolitical space. We are worried about the looming split within the Islamic world between Sunnis and Shiites. Failing to help reverse this tendency, we may eventually become witnesses of very sad events.
Question: Sergey Viktorovich, you have listed the existing disagreements between Russia and NATO, but did not mention Georgia’s entry into the organization. Does this mean that the topic is not a problem for Russia? Or Russia has resigned to the fact that Georgia will become a member of NATO, as promised recently by Anders Fogh Rasmussen?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: In my opening remarks, apart from this issue, I also did not touch upon other themes on which so far we cannot agree with the North Atlantic Alliance. For example, there is a problem of “substantial combat forces” that should not be deployed on a permanent basis within the territory of new members. More than ten years have elapsed, but NATO still has not come to an agreement as to what should be understood by this term. I noted that the communiqué issued yesterday by the Foreign Ministers of NATO contains the term “aspirant partners,” i.e. partners seeking to join NATO. Georgia is among the countries so designated. I openly warned our colleagues that they may unwittingly push Georgia’s current regime toward a repetition of its August 2008 adventure, which occurred shortly after the NATO summit in Bucharest, where it was written down categorically that Georgia would be a NATO member. Given the mentality of Mikhail Saakashvili, I have no doubt that this played an important role in his taking the mad and reckless decision. I expressed hope that NATO will approach responsibly the encouragement of such events in the region, which is strategic for the South Caucasus countries and the Russian Federation. Our closest allies and neighbors live there. I hope that I was heard.
Question: Can you comment on Russia’s stance on the North African countries and Syria, taking into account the aftermath of the Arab Spring?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: As I said, we adhere to the position that the peoples should decide the fate of their countries themselves. This requires dialogue. See how things stood in Yemen. Today we discussed this issue with the NATO colleagues. There was a bloody conflict between government and opposition, and society was split. Arab states launched an initiative, their peace plan. Arab, European, and American players began to actively pressure all the parties in conflict within Yemen to reach a settlement. No one set any deadlines or ultimatums. All behaved with the utmost responsibility. After several months, the settlement plan was signed. We believe that this is the method that should be applied in other situations, including in the case of Syria.
We are actively working with the Syrian leadership and with the opposition both inside the country and abroad. We tell them the same thing: you need to negotiate. We backed the Arab League initiative for the settlement of the Syrian crisis. But we are categorically against turning this initiative into an ultimatum, although some forces would like to make such attempts.
Elections were held in Tunisia, elections are planned in Egypt, and Morocco follows this path. Given the upcoming changes in the region we hope that democratization will benefit society as a whole, and none of the forces that will come to power in those countries will try to drive a wedge between religious, ethnic and other groups. That would be disastrous. We are concerned about this, because in the course of events, particularly in Egypt, there were cases of anti-Christian demonstrations against the relevant communities, such as Coptic, and attacks on churches. Such actions need to be suppressed by all possible means. I have already said that it is impermissible that as a result of the events in the region, which, unfortunately, are still far from complete, we should become witnesses of a split between Sunnis and Shiites.