Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
Speech by Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO Alexander Grushko at the opening of the OSCE Annual Security Review Conference (ASRC) in Vienna, June 27, 2017
I am grateful to you for the opportunity to speak at such an important forum.
As you know, there are two eternal Russian questions: who is to blame and what is to be done. It is impossible to answer the question of what is to be done without understanding the causes of the current crisis, and Helmut Kohl’s departure simply obliges us to do this.
Looking back it is impossible not to see all the missed opportunities. The legacy of the Cold War – primarily mental and political – has not been overcome. Western countries have proved to be unprepared for equitable cooperation with Russia in areas of common interest and in the construction of a European security architecture without dividing lines. The OSCE has not been institutionalised. The corner stone of European security – arms control in Europe – has been destroyed for purely political reasons.
When we suggested signing the European security treaty several years ago, our initiative was perceived as an attempt to destroy NATO, and an encroachment on the convention that legal security guarantees can only be received by countries that join NATO. This was further evidence of the failure to overcome the NATO-centric mentality. It would be appropriate to ask why only NATO members should be entitled to enhanced security.
We have long felt growing resistance to the consolidation of Russia’s role and the dynamics of its intertwining with Europe. The European Union got scared by its own project of four common spaces, including external and internal security, and impeded the projects that played a key role in ensuring quality relations with us – talks on the basic agreement, movement towards visa-free travel, formation of a mechanism for joint decision-making in the area of security and anti-crisis response. The Eastern Partnership became an instrument for driving a wedge between Russia and its historical neighbours. NATO and the EU demonstrated a high-handed attitude to the EAEU and the CSTO, which emerged in post-Soviet space.
Throughout all these years, NATO has been conducting a systematic, creeping expansion eastwards, which has led to deeper dividing lines in Europe and fuelled the habitual “Cold War” instincts. Meanwhile, Russia was not “moving” anywhere. Militarily, it was “contracting:” in the early 1990s, it pulled out all former Soviet contingents from East European countries and massively reduced its military capacity along its western borders.
After failed interventions in breach of international law and its commitments within the OSCE framework, NATO, having found itself at a new fork in the road of history, chose to return to its roots, to the search for a big “enemy,” in order to prove its relevance in the new security conditions. And this fell on fertile soil. The Ukrainian crisis was used by the alliance to justify its transition to deterrence schemes dating from an era of confrontation. If there had been no coup in Ukraine, something else would have been worked out. The alliance’s ex-leaders were saying it frankly and openly. Consequently, the bet was made again on military force and on gaining military superiority.
Things have reached a point where some Western officials regard geographical proximity to Russia as an “existential threat” to NATO. The question of who created this “proximity” is, of course, being left aside. Western media, taking their cue from the RAND Corporation, are speculating in a businesslike manner how many hours – 60 or less – it would take Russian tanks to reach Tallinn.
We see evidence of an approaching arms race. Despite the assurances that these measures are not a provocation but a defensive reaction to changes in the area of security, the ongoing military development in NATO countries points in the opposite direction. The bloc has deployed its forces where there were none before and where the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act prohibits the deployment of such forces in this amount or duration. The regions of Central and Eastern Europe are being primed with military units, weapons and equipment. A series of provocative military exercises has been held. To appease its allies, the White House has requested a 41 per cent increase in defence spending for the next fiscal year. This could be the precursor of the deployment of additional forces and infrastructure in Europe.
A propaganda campaign is rising over the Russian-Belarusian Zapad (West) military exercise. At the same time, NATO countries plan to hold over 15 mutually complementing military exercises in the bloc’s eastern area from June to November of this year. They have a common tactical background and provide for training in the entire range of containment tasks. As a result, the annual series of NATO tactical and combat training are aimed not only at maintaining the reinforced military presence of NATO forces in direct proximity to Russian borders but also at intensive development of this theatre of operations, which includes beefing-up military infrastructure. US ballistic missile defence facilities are being developed there. And an unprecedented information campaign is ongoing to discredit Russia.
The quality of security also depends on the countries’ ability to join forces in the fight against common threats over and above the official dividing line. Yet NATO is acting contrary to our common interests in this area as well. The bloc has suspended nearly all practical cooperation projects. The operation of all working groups and cooperation between concerned professionals within the Russia-NATO Council have been suspended. This cooperation was developing productively until 2014, primarily in the fight against all kinds of terrorism, in Afghanistan, in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and in fighting piracy. Russia and NATO trained Afghan technicians for servicing Russian-made helicopters, counter-narcotics police for Afghanistan (the Council’s project was the largest of its kind; over 4,000 counter-narcotics police officers have been trained), Pakistan and Central Asian countries. We also worked on the Stand-off Detection of Explosives (STANDEX) project to detect explosives on vehicles, at critical infrastructure facilities and on persons moving through a crowd. Under the Cooperative Airspace Initiative, we exchanged information about “renegade aircraft” that were supposed to have been hijacked by terrorists. We also promoted our cooperation in the fight against piracy. There are more examples to show that our interaction within the Russia-NATO Council really improved the safety of both Russian and NATO citizens. The Council’s activities did not overlap with those of other organisations, but our dialogue led to the appearance of cooperation programmes that helped strengthen the security of the Council’s member states and also protect the safety of their citizens. The tragedies in St Petersburg, Brussels, Manchester and London will forever stand as evidence of all the opportunities we missed.
It is regrettable that the Russia-NATO Council is becoming an empty shell. It no longer has a practical agenda, although it was created to rally the efforts of Russia and NATO countries in the areas of common interests.
I believe that many people in the bloc know that this has affected their interests, yet they have opted for rejecting the possibility of doing “business as usual” contrary to their real needs. However, if we take a closer look at the task of de-escalating tension and preventing dangerous military accidents, we will see that it cannot be achieved without the revival of ties between our militaries and military experts. NATO is not yet ready for this, just as it is not ready to resume our common projects either.
Meanwhile, we need to cooperate together to deal with the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, primarily in and around Syria. Considering the nature of the current threats and the conflict potential, no islands of security can be created within NATO or the EU. We firmly believe that it would be better to back each other in the current situation, rather than look at each other as adversaries or strategic rivals.
Russia does not need to prove that its aspirations are peaceful. We have long proved this, including by dismantling the legacy of the Cold War, which offered Europe a chance to end the arms race and enjoy the dividends of peace. NATO appears to be planning to abandon these dividends and to return to the past. Otherwise, why is it not satisfied with Europe’s current defence spending, which has reached 250 billion euros?
But vital interests will eventually regain priority, and despite the institutional obstacles erected by NATO, we are not short of partners for dealing with common tasks.
Russia has been doing its best to maintain a normal atmosphere in Europe, to build up confidence and also to prevent the situation from escalating into a conflict. We have not suspended anything, and we are ready for cooperation. We’ll wait until our partners are ready for this. The Russian military have formulated several proposals for re-launching the operation of the Russia-NATO Council. The bloc has so far not responded to these initiatives.
I am sure that NATO will eventually admit that security systems without Russia, or worse still, against Russia, cannot be viable or productive, that such systems only create risks and do not meet the interests of the bloc’s members. We need to look for ways to defuse tension and to launch practical cooperation based on honest cooperation, equality and respect for each other. There is no other option.