Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko’s interview with the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, April 15, 2019
Question: On April 3-4, NATO foreign ministers met in Washington to mark the 70th anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty. NATO members are talking about the “most successful” military alliance in history. So what is NATO?
Alexander Grushko: According to the official position presented by the NATO leadership, this organisation was created as a means of ensuring the collective security of the Western European countries from the threat from the Soviet Union. Now NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg argues that NATO is almost the only force defending freedom and the liberal order. However, I would say NATO’s essence was most concisely formulated by its First Secretary General Lord Ismay: “Keep the Soviet Union out [of Europe], the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Watching how NATO is trying to subjugate the EU militarily, it is difficult to get rid of the impression that the third part of this formula is still relevant. NATO remains an alliance of states where the US plays a dominant role not only in terms of military power, but also in terms of the military budget and political weight.
For Washington, NATO is indeed the most historically successful international instrument – a tool of control and subordination of its allies, and at the same time of legitimisation of US illegitimate actions in the international arena. NATO, in particular, has helped share responsibility for the aggression against Yugoslavia, which had the worst consequences for the Balkans and European security in general. The US administration is now unsuccessfully trying to monetise the security guarantees that the American military presence in Europe allegedly gives its European allies, demanding that defence spending be raised to 2 per cent of GDP. The American defence industry, which promotes its products for European rearmament programmes, is counting on a significant part – one-fifth – of this loyalty programme. It gets worse as it goes on: now Washington claims that countries hosting US troops must not only shoulder the full cost of their presence, but also add 50 per cent on top for such a privilege and protection. In other communities, this is called racketeering.
Whether NATO is successful in other areas is also debatable. But one can look at the results: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
Yugoslavia, a semi-criminal pseudo-state, has been created on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, the source of many problems in Europe. Serbia has suffered enormous damage. NATO’s Kosovo campaign was a severe blow to the entire system of international law and efforts to create a truly collective security architecture in Europe.
Afghanistan – huge resources have been pumped into it for almost 18 years, but about 40per cent of the country's population lives in areas controlled by the Taliban, according to the Pentagon. The NATO military campaign has led to significant civilian casualties. Opium poppy production has surged dozens of times. In 2001, the poppy cultivation areas totaled about 7,600 hectares, and in 2017, 328,000 hectares. In general, 2017 was a record year in terms of opium production – about 9,000 metric tons. The current NATO Resolute Support Mission is failing to create efficient Afghan security forces, their losses are enormous, and the level of desertion is considerable.
Libya – NATO's Operation Unified Protector is another example of the perversion of international law. Resolution 1973 of the UN Security Council stipulated the creation of a no-fly zone and measures to protect civilians – not an armed regime change. As a result, the country plunged into chaos.
As a result of the West’s social engineering, giant territories in the MENA region are now devoid of any signs of statehood, turning into the source and refuge of terrorist groups, including ISIS. It is this instability that generates the migration flows that are threatening to drown Europe.
Question: But did the United States always manage to make allies toe the line?
Alexander Grushko: In fact, there were and there are differences inside the alliance. Not all US moves gained unanimous allied support. Suffice it to recall the 2003 Iraqi campaign that caused strong frictions between leading NATO countries. In the United States, “French fries” were renamed “Freedom fries,” French wine was poured into gutters, and some other methods were invented to demonstrate revulsion against independent French behaviour. At that time, the Europeans were thinking long and hard about how to increase their autonomy in military and political matters.
Today, these differences are even more profound than ever. But regrettably, they’ve found no better method to strengthen bloc unity than dusting off the “Russian threat.”
As a result, NATO has not only revived the Cold War rhetoric but is also involved in military organisational development on the Cold War pattern. In combination with the implementation of plans to create a global ABM system and the US desire to be free of constraints imposed by arms control agreements such as the INF Treaty, all of this is creating a disturbing picture. The risk of sliding into an uncontrolled escalation of military tensions and an arms race has increased many times over.
Question: Many in the West believe that the events in Donbass and Crimea’s reunification with Russia were the point of departure in the current crisis. This is used as an explanation for measures to “contain” Russia. Do you agree with this point of view?
Alexander Grushko: No. It is a mistake to think that all was well before the Ukrainian crisis and then suddenly went wrong “through Russia’s fault.” By 2014, NATO was already in a state of internal instability. It had lost its bearings and felt in need of a new mission. The Cold War was over. The policy of expansion had clearly run out of steam. Millions of people still felt the consequences of the “humanitarian interventions” and large-scale operations. The operation in Afghanistan had become unpopular and hopeless. So, they took the decision to radically cut their personnel numbers over there. It was then that NATO began a return to “sources,” defence against the “threat from the East.” The crisis in Ukraine, which followed hard on the coup in Kiev and which NATO countries helped to carry out, was just a convenient ideological frame for this U-turn in NATO policies and military planning.
Let me note that there were differences between Russia and the alliance over a number of key issues even before this. I am referring to numerous violations of international law, NATO’s advance towards our borders, the development of its military infrastructure in the territory of new members, the establishment of the European segment of America’s global ABM system, and non-nuclear countries’ involvement in nuclear exercises under NATO’s aegis.
There were situations where our relations were suspended. I am referring to 1999, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia and 2008, when the conflict in South Ossetia broke out. The current crisis is not the first such quarrel, but it is the most protracted one. Our civilian and military cooperation has been discontinued. NATO has relinquished a positive agenda in relations with Russia. It is nonexistent and so far there are no signs that they in NATO know how to emerge from this deadlock.
Question: Russia claims that Europe is being militarised and that there is a threat of a new arms race. Is there a threat of a military conflict with NATO? Could it lead to a nuclear war?
Alexander Grushko: Right now, the alliance is adapting its military potentials and explains this by the need to meet threats from all azimuth angles. But mostly it is focusing on the Eastern “flank.” NATO is working to boost combat capability of line units and is drilling their redeployment in Europe. NATO forces have become much more active in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, as well as in the Arctic zone. Large-scale exercises involving strategic equipment and nuclear weapons carriers are held. New command-and-control and rear support structures, infrastructure facilities, and arms and equipment depots are being created and the existing ones are being modernised.
NATO’s military planning is being reformatted to oppose a “comparable” adversary in a high-intensity conflict. Under the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act, the alliance pledged to rely on a fitting infrastructure commensurate with the objectives it pursued. So, the nature of the infrastructure being created enables a judgment on its real purpose.
We are witnessing the revival of the “best” Cold War practices. For example, the Dynamic Force Employment programme that the US was implementing in Europe was an important element in the strategy of opposing the USSR. It included the examination of potential theatre operations (TO), mobilisation drills without any early notification, as well as rapid relocations and deployment. A recent example is redeploying 1,500 GI’s from America to European countries in March.
The policy to build up cyber capabilities seems dangerous as well. (NATO has recognised cyberspace as one of its operational environments.) This implies the development of both defensive and offensive potentials. We have evidence that some NATO countries already possess these. But this only increases the likelihood of cyber incidents.
A cause for grave concern is a dramatic rise in NATO military spending, which currently amounts to over a half of what is spent in the world at large. In 2018 alone, their total expenditures exceeded $1 trillion, or 2,100 per cent more than Russia spends on defence.
It must not be forgotten that in keeping with commitments they assumed at the Wales summit in 2014, 20 per cent of this sum is spent on arms purchases and military R&D. Even though some NATO countries still do not conform to this criterion, the sum in question amounts to over $100 billion plus. In this context, Washington is urging its allies to buy weapons from the United States: $100 billion per year is a fairly good shot in the arm to the US military-industrial complex.
It is more or less clear where the United States stands: its bloated military budget is aimed at ensuring the US armed forces’ predominance in all operational environments and all theatre operations. But why do the European countries need these expenditures?
There is a marketing term, “creating artificial demand,” which is about a situation where you are offered goods that, in principle, you do not need. If you talk at length about an approaching shower of rain, you will sell more umbrellas. By fanning fear of the nonexistent threat from the East, you create demand for defence tools, primarily arms and military equipment. The question is to what extent Europe is prepared to pay for its own fears.
The commitments to build up military budgets make NATO states curtail investment in socioeconomic development and even borrow on external markets. After the Cold War, Western countries slashed their defence spending and received the so-called peace dividend that was used for development. Now the pendulum is moving in the opposite direction and the Europeans will have to tighten their belts.
For our part, we have no intention to join this race. We have put our stake on economic, targeted and effective means.
As for a putative armed conflict with NATO, all reasonable people hope that it will not happen. This would be a disaster for the whole of mankind. I am confident that Washington and Brussels understand this as well. But in the current situation, there is a risk of unintended incidents and wrongly interpreted intentions. These must be avoided.
Question: NATO is about to accept North Macedonia. Does joining the alliance remain an effective way to provide for security?
Alexander Grushko: NATO does not like comparisons between the open-door policy and spheres of influence. However, such analogies seem obvious when there is no real threat. Let us remember Lord Ismay once again. When the US is guided by the concept of competition between leading powers, aspirant countries are offered a chance to choose a side. The entire range of tools of interference in domestic affairs is used in order to persuade these countries “to choose right.” The decision to join the alliance is often made regardless of what people think. In particular, the Macedonian authorities simply ignored the results of the referendum; the same goes for NATO. The fact that Macedonia’s Central Electoral Commission declared it void is not taken into consideration. There was no referendum in Montenegro at all.
What is the add-on value of Montenegro and North Macedonia as NATO members? Who do they have to be protected from? The Kosovo Liberation Army is the only destabilising power in the region right now; it can provoke a new crisis in the Balkans condoned by NATO at any moment. By the way, we have received no comments from NATO on the statements made by the Albanian leadership that the Kosovo problem has only one solution: Kosovo should join Albania.
What do these aspirant countries want? To acquire “greater security for less money”? NATO used such slogans in the early 2010s; it was called “smart defence.” However, these countries will have to pay dearly for the notorious solidarity: both the defence expenses and security risks will grow. To obtain a “pass” to the European Union in the future? This seems naïve. The deployment of foreign soldiers and military equipment as well as the alarmist rhetoric do not contribute to a favourable investment climate. Foreign investment in the troops’ infrastructure and stationing has limited but never a lasting or comprehensive effect for the economy. In addition, when joining the alliance, countries have to automatically subscribe to its policy, which is generally unfriendly towards Russia, thus damaging their economies too.
NATO promotes the completely contorted idea that membership is the best way to provide security. This point of view is disconnected from reality. There has been no better way to provide security of any state than establishing good, mutually beneficial and equal relations with their neighbours.
Question: What are the results of NATO’s adaptation to new security challenges?
Alexander Grushko: An effective adaptation to new realities would require the alliance to deviate from the instructions of its “founding fathers.” It is impossible to counter the new and much more complicated challenges based on the 1949 ideological platform. For this purpose, instead of proclaiming itself the source of political legitimacy, it should try and become integrated in truly collective efforts to maintain security on the basis of international law.
It would be possible to renew the alliance by establishing a truly strategic partnership with Russia. Such an attempt was made at the 2010 Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon. In reality, NATO members would have had to waive their exceptionality, to discover the art of compromise and equitable work for themselves and to aspire for common, rather than group, interests. This did not happen.
Question: What are the prospects of Russia-NATO relations? According to NATO, business as usual is no longer possible.
Alexander Grushko: Russian and NATO viewpoints coincide on this score. It is no longer possible to do business as usual, just like in 2002-2008 and 2010-2014. NATO has gone too far in whipping up confrontation with Russia, and it is so far unclear when and where common sense will prevail. It may be a paradox, but, most of all, current Russia-NATO relations resemble the “routine” state of affairs, namely, the Cold War for which NATO was established. They have once again de-mothballed the Harmel Doctrine that stipulates dialogue and deterrence. However, this formula now contains a lot of deterrence and little dialogue.
It goes without saying that NATO is a serious security factor, and we have no intention of ignoring it. At the same time, we realise that many NATO activities are derived from US policies. If Russia-US relations change, Russia-NATO relations will change too. I would like to recall that the Russian response to the September 11, 2001 events largely facilitated the creation of a new type of relations with the alliance and led to the establishment of the Russia-NATO Council.
At the moment there is an objective need for political dialogue and for maintaining working contacts at the level of military experts. NATO has renounced practical cooperation with Russia in the interests of strengthening security. But there is an objective need for joint work to reduce the risks of an unintended escalation and to prevent any incidents. Russia maintains such contacts with some NATO countries, but not with the entire alliance so far. The alliance’s decision to stop normal military working contacts is absurd in itself. The state of military security in Europe largely depends on the state of Russia-NATO relations.
President Vladimir Putin’s words regarding our subsequent actions in the context of the INF Treaty also apply here. Our proposals are on the table. Let’s wait and see when the alliance comes to realise the importance of a serious dialogue on security matters with Russia.