NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
Permanent Representative to NATO Alexander Grushko’s interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta, published May 31, 2016
Question: You believe there are no reasons to look to the future with optimism? What kind of future lies ahead of us?
Alexander Grushko: The downward trend in international relations continues unabated. As seen from the outcome of the recent meeting of foreign ministers of NATO countries, the alliance continues its policy of “containing” Russia despite its own calls for a political dialogue. I’m not saying that our relations with NATO are similar to back in the Cold War, but the alliance has adopted security arrangements that are reminiscent of the Cold War period. This is alarming, because today it is not just about policies, but military construction as well. The policies are taking on a concrete “iron” outline, and numerous measures that the United States and its allies are carrying out in Europe perpetuate such a confrontational model. In turn, this model will weigh on future policy.
Today, NATO is trying to replicate its confrontational schemes on the Black Sea. Recently, Turkish President Erdogan said that the Black Sea becoming a “Russian lake” should be avoided at all costs. However, NATO officials are well aware that the Black Sea will never become a “NATO lake” either, and we will take all necessary measures in order to neutralise possible threats and attempts to play power politics with Russia in the south. Notably, our Black Sea Fleet has been tightly integrated into the international efforts to stabilise the situation in the Mediterranean region and further south. In particular, our naval forces were actively involved in countering pirates in conjunction with NATO and the EU. NATO has abandoned this practice.
Question: Are there enough mechanisms to prevent an accidental conflict amid rising tensions? How effective are the hot lines and other mechanisms?
Alexander Grushko: Over the past decades, the international community, in particular, the European countries, have developed within the OSCE a fairly advanced system of arms controls, or measures that can help stave off or eliminate the danger of unintended military incidents, as well as other tools, including the military-to-military hot lines. Russia has signed a number of bilateral agreements, including with several NATO countries. They have a good track record, particularly, in Russia-Norway relations. They remain quite effective in northern Europe.
The quality of security in Europe will be determined not only by whether we succeed in defusing militarily the current situation in NATO-Russia relations, but also by whether we can establish genuine collective cooperation to counter common security threats. Here, the situation looks more encouraging, as pragmatic interests prevail. We can see that despite the attempts to use an organisation like NATO as a tool to isolate Russia, cooperation on key international issues and challenges to security is, in fact, taking place in other formats. This includes the Middle East Quartet, the International Syria Support Group, and the Normandy format. The list goes on. Therefore, the countries that are involved in these efforts and are willing to cooperate with Russia on a truly collective and equal basis, as well as to show respect for our legitimate security interests, should duly reconfigure the policies of the organisations of which they are members. I’m referring not only to NATO, but the European Union as well.
Question: Why isn’t the alliance willing to start a dialogue with Russia? Is it really only because of Crimea?
Alexander Grushko: The current processes should be primarily viewed from the perspective of the geopolitical interests of the countries concerned. Such an analysis shows that the Ukraine crisis was used as a pretext for an abrupt turnaround in NATO’ policy and military buildup. I’m not going to indulge in conspiracy theories, but, again, a sober analysis leads us to believe that NATO feels completely uncomfortable in the absence of a major opponent.
All operations carried out by NATO since the end of Cold War have led to negative results – in the Balkans and in Libya. NATO countries are directly responsible for destroying Iraq. What we are seeing today in the Middle East and North Africa – the emergence of vast areas of land overtaken by terrorists and extremists of all stripes – is largely the result of NATO activities. Afghanistan is also part of this territory. NATO stayed there for over 12 years. However, the results have so far been questionable, as is the likelihood of any signs of stability in Afghanistan any time soon. Clearly, the situation is getting worse. The number of areas controlled by the Taliban movement is growing.
I would like to note that even before the Ukraine crisis, the western political scientists began to wonder whether NATO will be able to continue to exist as a tool that is consistent with the new security environment. Today, we see that the threat of a big enemy is used to address completely different geopolitical goals, such as regaining NATO’s central place in the world politics, or trying to prove that there are no other means to ensure security but NATO-centrism relying on a strategic bond between Europe and the United States. This is precisely why the alliance needs a big enemy.
Diplomats read documents. A few months ago, a revised version of the United States European Command Theatre Strategy was released. It states in black and white that USEUCOM’s objectives are to promote the US interests "from Greenland to the Caspian Sea, and from the Arctic Ocean to the Levant." The question arises: where are the United States and the Caspian Sea geographically? And where is that place where Russia can promote its own national interests? Therefore, whenever they say that Russia is building up its military might, the answer is: we do so on our territory. And I can assure you none of what we are doing is a secret for our counterparts.
I do not think that NATO is naive to the point as to believe that all those measures adopted on the eastern flank, such as attempts to project power, to fly along our borders, or to bring dozens of destroyers armed with cruise missiles to within a few dozen kilometres away from key Russian Navy facilities, will be left without military and technical response. I don’t think so. What I do think is that we are talking about a deliberate policy designed to prove NATO's "indispensability" in the new security environment. And also about resolving other issues, such as forcing Europeans to fork out on defence and to buy US-made military equipment.
Question: Listening to what you are saying now, and what NATO countries are saying, I get the impression of hearing two monologues that never intertwine to form a dialogue. What needs to happen for these monologues to become a dialogue?
Alexander Grushko: I’d like to hope that a basis for such a dialogue will form some day. Russia-NATO relations have several dimensions. We have always operated on the assumption that cooperative efforts provided by Russia – such as transit to Afghanistan and other support provided to the International Security Assistance Force, and training the Afghan Air Force technicians in Russia, to name a few, will, over time, result in greater trust between us. NATO should realise that talking about positive stability in relations with Russia will be difficult without achieving a positive agenda on the basis of equality.
Of course, Russia and NATO will remain the principal military agents in the Euro-Atlantic area. However, it’s unlikely that a cosmetic touch-up will do any good to a structurally deficient building with cracks. Such cracks occur, primarily because NATO's policies and military buildup distort the system of tools that took shape after the Cold War, and in fact invite us to return to the past. That is, to look at each other, if not through the sights − we would like to avoid this scenario – but through the lens of military capabilities that can be deployed along our borders. This is the harsh truth of life. Nothing personal, as they say. The Amari Air Base in Estonia used by NATO Air Forces is a short flight from St Petersburg. Therefore, any military professional will do his best to ensure that the danger posed by such a base – we know it may be home to dual-purpose aircraft – is eliminated. To reverse this trend, we need more than political efforts; we also need to abandon confrontational military planning.
Question: What can the European countries do in this regard? It is customary to believe that NATO is run by the United States, and the Unites States calls all the shots.
Alexander Grushko: It is true. The United States calls the shots. Perhaps, not 100 percent, but it defines the basic outlines and policies of NATO military buildup. Speaking about the Western European countries, they, of course, should define the security paradigm they want to live by. I’m confident that sensible people realise that the best security can only be achieved through partnership with Russia. I reiterate, pragmatic interests have taken the upper hand in a number of areas. We have seen that attempts to isolate Russia using transatlantic formats do not prevent Western European countries from seeing us as a key partner in dealing with specific global and regional challenges.
Question: What will become of the NATO-Russia Founding Act?
Alexander Grushko: This act is one of the few remaining deterrents. Therefore, we believe that its importance should in no way be underestimated. A number of NATO countries have political forces that are in favour of waiving this document. That would be extremely dangerous. In that case, perhaps, we could say that Europe is in danger of losing the last remnants of the security tools that are not based on the balance of threats and counter-threats. Cancelling the Founding Act, its provisions on practicing restraint in the military sphere would be a direct invitation to a new phase of the arms race. Such a development will greatly destabilise the situation in Europe and is at odds with the European interests.