Inter-American problems and regional policy
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko’s interview with the TASS news agency, June 6, 2020
Question: By withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty the United States is closing its air space to Russia’s control but will be able to monitor Russian air space via its NATO allies. Does Russia need this treaty without US participation? What can be done to save it without hurting our security interests?
Alexander Grushko: The withdrawal of one participant from the multilateral treaty does not mean complete termination. At the same time, it is clear that withdrawing US air space from monitoring substantially affects one of the treaty’s main foundations – its coverage and, hence, upsets the balance of interests that it established.
But for all the importance of the Russian-US dimension, there are 34 participants in the treaty, and their security interests, including those of the US’ allies, will also be affected. Based on the treaty’s comprehensive character, the participants agreed that if one country walks away from the treaty, the rest will convene to review the consequences of this for the treaty. The depository states, Hungary and Canada must hold this conference within 30-60 days of being notified about a withdrawal. As for the withdrawal as such, it will become legally valid six months after notification about this intention.
Few analysts believe the US will suddenly change its mind and remain in the treaty. The argument to justify withdrawal is far-fetched. Dozens of technical issues related to this monitoring are continuously discussed by the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC). It was created for this purpose. Many of them are not yet fully settled. This applies, for instance, to the issues of establishing range limits of flights, determining the conditions for crew rest, establishing airfields for refuelling and flight plans over exclave and insular territories, to name a few. We have serious grievances about the implementation of the treaty by some states, including the US but it has not occurred to anyone to withdraw from it. Georgia is violating one of the treaty’s key provisions – the right of each participant to make observation flights over the territory of any other participant – by denying us this opportunity.
This problem is different – Washington has adopted a course of consistent withdrawal from all agreements on strategic stability and arms control with a view to gaining military supremacy. The US has undermined the foundations of European security by avoiding the ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty, and walking away from the INF Treaty. Now it is withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty.
As for our next step, we are reviewing all options. Let’s wait for the outcome of the conference. We are not going to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for anyone. In any event, we will give priority to our own and our allies’ security interests. I would like to remind you at this point that Russia and Belarus form one group of participants to the treaty.
Question: Have the participants decided when to convene the conference? Will it be held as a meeting or via video conference?
Alexander Grushko: Not yet, but according to contractual requirements it must be held no later than the end of July. We don‘t know yet in what format it will be held but all those who are interested in the treaty’s future must be interested in convening it as a meeting rather than online. There are plenty of issues to discuss.
Question: Has it been decided who will represent Russia at the conference?
Alexander Grushko: It is too early to talk about this yet.
Question: NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu said the alliance has not received Russia’s response to its proposal for a Russia-NATO Council meeting. What do you think about this and what are the chances for holding this meeting in the near future? What urgent issues could be discussed in this format?
Alexander Grushko: A Russia-NATO Council meeting is not held when it is proposed but when all the council participants agree to it. This is not the case now. The NATO countries propose discussing the situation in Ukraine with us. Since NATO does not play any role in the Ukrainian domestic conflict, it makes no sense to discuss this at a council meeting. NATO members take part in the weekly discussions of this issue at the OSCE Permanent Council. Moreover, France and Germany are members of the Normandy format and are bound to inform their allies of what is taking place there. We believe it is necessary to convene the council meetings when they can really promote military security in Europe. We have a number of proposals on what can be done under the current conditions: de-escalation by pulling back the area for military exercises from the Russia-NATO contact line, improving the mechanisms for preventing dangerous military incidents and avoidance of a misunderstanding of each other’s intentions. However, we have not yet received any meaningful response to our proposals. Moreover, today there is an urgent need for restoring normal military contact that has been completely broken by NATO. There is no progress in this regard so far. Nor is there any positive general agenda for the council because NATO has suspended any practical cooperation with Russia.
Question: Is NATO ready to offer a constructive response to the decision by the Russian Armed Forces Command to not hold large military exercises near the borders of alliance members?
Alexander Grushko: We have yet to see any willingness to do this.
Question: Is there any concern that NATO might initiate a provocation during the Victory parade on June 24?
Alexander Grushko: We would like to hope that common sense will prevail, but we cannot be completely confident about this judging by how NATO planned the peak of its military activity on May 9.
Question: Have you discussed potential updates to the Vienna Document on confidence- and security-building measures?
Alexander Grushko: We have not talked about this because there are no conditions for it. NATO must make up its mind – either build up its security by increasing its military potential and creating a military threat to Russia or enhance its security by developing arms control instruments. It is impossible to have it both ways.
This suggests a different question: how can NATO talk about updating the Vienna Document that is aimed at ensuring the transparency of military activity when the US, the main holder of the controlling interest, plans to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty that is designed exactly to ensure this transparency?
Question: OSCE High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell spoke recently about the need to find a sensible balance between sanctions and cooperation in selective areas in relations with Russia. In what areas is Brussels really ready for dialogue and cooperation? What has Europe indicated during the pandemic?
Alexander Grushko: Mr Borrell said recently that sanctions are not instrumental in resolving problems with China. Does this mean that they are okay for Russia? Needless to say, we hear signals from different avenues and lanes in Brussels to the effect that the EU’s current course on Russia does not meet its interests or the requirements of the situation that is taking shape in the world. However, these signals have not yet been converted into official EU policy on Russia. Meanwhile, Russia and the EU have objective common interests. This applies to the need to maintain global stability and security, stabilise the situation in specific regions and counter new threats and challenges. The pandemic has emphasised that the broadest possible cooperation is essential, not to mention in energy, the economy, transport and human contact where the interests of Russia and the EU objectively intertwine.
We are open to dialogue and have no off-limit subjects but we believe that cooperation, which is so badly needed now, can only develop through mutual respect and equality.
Question: Will Russia continue trilateral consultations with the Netherlands and Australia on the Malaysian plane crash? Is this necessary considering the start of the trial?
Alexander Grushko: The consultations will continue. They don’t overlap with the trial in any way.
Question: Are they planned online?
Alexander Grushko: No, they aren’t
Question: Summer is vacation time and our leaders recommend that we spend it at home. Meanwhile, Turkey and the southern European countries would not be against hosting Russian tourists. Are they planning effective measures for epidemiological safety for holidaymakers?
Alexander Grushko: I’d prefer to not elaborate on this issue because the situation is too volatile. We see that southern European countries are opening their borders selectively, only for some of their neighbours. Regarding the EU, the Schengen zone is not yet fully opened for all its members. All countries are opening their borders very carefully for fear of another outbreak of the coronavirus or a second wave of the pandemic as the doctors put it. Their apprehensions are fully justified; it is necessary to use extreme caution in this regard. The health of our people is an absolute priority and when the decisions are made they will be well balanced and will guarantee that the coronavirus situation does not at least get worse.
Question: Will the pandemic interfere with the holding of the OSCE Annual Security Review Conference (ASRC) that is scheduled to take place in Vienna on June 23-25? Will you take part in it?
Alexander Grushko: For now, it is scheduled for June 23-25 in an online format. We will decide on the level of participation later.
Question: What about the possible visit to Crimea by Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, which was supposed to take place last autumn? What prevented this visit?
Alexander Grushko: This visit to Russia was suspended due to the pandemic. It will take place when conditions permit.
Question: Will Russia change its approach to implementing the decisions by the European Human Rights Court (ECHR) if it adopts a constitutional amendment to the provision on the priority of international law?
Alexander Grushko: As early as 2015, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation made a decision to ensure conformity in implementing ECHR decisions with the Constitution of Russia. This country joined the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by ratifying it. Hence, the obligations and rights under this convention are part of Russian domestic law. The decisions of the court will be carried out in strict compliance with the Constitution to rule out any conflict between them.