First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov’s interview with Interfax news agency, June 9, 2020
Question: Mr Titov, Poland has recently adopted a new version of its national security doctrine which defines Russia as the main threat to the country. At the same time, using Russia as a threat, Warsaw managed to gain an increase in the US military contingent by a thousand troops. The deployment of elements of the US global missile defence system on Polish territory will be completed this year. Is Poland becoming a thorn in the side of Russian security in Europe and will we consider this in our military planning?
Vladimir Titov: The doctrine recently adopted by Poland merely confirms a course towards confrontation with Russia that its authorities have been pursuing for the last few years. Warsaw has long positioned itself as the initiator of many anti-Russia proposals, including in the military sphere, by actively exploiting an alleged Russian threat.
Naturally, we consider this zealous desire by the Polish authorities to score points on the domestic political scene and in the eyes of their “senior” partners by sacrificing neighbourly relations to delusive military gains.
Russophobia is an exhaustible resource in the end. That said the Poles are upping the ante and are starting to talk about the deployment of nuclear arms on their territory. This policy of provoking Russia may start to antagonise even Poland’s allies. We are monitoring Poland’s challenges to our security and will respond appropriately.
Question: Apart from the military component, there are examples of Poland acting as a conductor of US efforts to oust Russia from European energy markets, including the near abroad countries. Examples include the building of terminals for storing US LNG, the participation of a Polish company in US oil supplies to Belarus, and the construction of the Baltic Pipe for gas distribution from Norway for re-export.
Do we consider these moves by Poland to be a threat to our energy interests? Are we in a position to counter them and minimise their negative consequences?
Vladimir Titov: Russia does not have a goal to monopolise the supply of energy to the European market. We favour honest, transparent and fair competition. We do not mind the desire of third countries to promote their energy resources. Obviously, some people would like to make money on Russophobia. But we have objective competitive advantages and a reputation as a reliable partner, as illustrated by decades of trouble-free energy deliveries.
The Poles must make up their mind. It only takes common sense: are they willing to pay extra in the current complicated global economic situation for these political manipulations, thereby making their own economy less competitive?
Question: Poland, using a variety of legal and political instruments, is systematically taking vigorous steps to impede the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project. It is likely that this project will be covered by the EU’s Third Energy Package. If this happens, is Russia confident that the project will be completed and fully implemented?
Vladimir Titov: We are confident that Nord Stream 2 will be completed and put into operation in spite of the efforts by our detractors to disrupt the project. Both Russia, which exports gas, and many European states, primarily Germany, are interested in our gas, and are interested in this new gas pipeline. According to all forecasts, the demand for Russian energy resources in the European Union, if anything, will grow in the foreseeable future.
As regards the EU’s Third Energy Package, as well as the new EU gas directive extended to cross-border pipelines, Germany’s Federal Network Agency in May rejected the request from Nord Stream 2 AG to exempt its pipeline project from those regulations, but as far as we know, the operating company intends to continue negotiating with the German authorities. The further adaptation of the project to EU standards without major negative consequences is also an option.
It has long been known that the US is aggressively pushing its expensive liquefied gas into the European market, not stopping short of open and even backstage political pressure on its allies. The Poles have apparently succumb to that pressure. Opponents of Nord Stream 2 in Washington threaten more sanctions against European project participants, hoping to increase the competitiveness of American LNG, and at the same time to undermine the competitiveness of the EU’s energy-intensive industry – the cheaper the energy, the lower the production costs.
Question: The German authorities, at the highest level, have expressed concern that hackers from Russia allegedly attacked the Bundestag website five years ago and compromised German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal files. Why do you think this subject has been raised again now? Is Russia ready to give the German side the necessary explanations to eliminate this misunderstanding in bilateral relations?
Vladimir Titov: ‘Russian hackers’ stories are a current trend in demonising Russia. The Russian side’s repeated proposals to discuss any concerns our German partners might have and carefully examine their complaints have remained unanswered. The question is, why speculate on the topic? Why now?
As in many similar cases, Berlin began citing some information received from American intelligence services. Furthermore, on May 30, German police arrested Russian citizen Denis Kaznacheyev who was incriminated with certain financial cybercrimes, again, by the Americans. If the German side actually has any overseas documented evidence of someone’s guilt, we will be ready for a dialogue after seeing these documents. In the meantime, we can only say that, regrettably, these new unproven accusations against us are detrimental to the atmosphere of Russian-German relations.
Question: For some time now Germany has been insisting on the return of the cultural treasures taken out of Germany to Russia following World War II. The dispute concerns, in part, the finds made by archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann and the Eberswalde Hoard, as well as thousands of other unique gold items and decorations dating back to the 9th century BC. Is Moscow ready to meet Berlin halfway, or is the issue of restitution a closed chapter?
Vladimir Titov: The issue of displaced cultural treasures has been on the table of the Russian-German cultural and political dialogue for a long time. It is an extremely delicate matter, and discussions on it should take into account the huge damage done to Russia and the Soviet Union as a whole by the Nazi aggression during the Great Patriotic War, as well as the current state of bilateral ties, which have seen better days.
Goodwill gestures should be made by both sides. We expect Germany to take reciprocal action to find and return the Russian displaced values to Russia, as well as to take other measures to restore Russia’s cultural heritage destroyed during the war. We are ready to implement joint projects with our partners so as to make trophy art available to the general public.
Question: Russia has numerous complaints regarding Norway’s infringement of Russia’s interests on Spitsbergen. As far as we know, the Norwegian party has rejected all of our attempts to launch a dialogue on this issue. Are we ready to leave everything as it is, or will we try to convince Oslo to launch a constructive dialogue so as to settle the existing disputes? Is this issue critically important for our bilateral relations?
Vladimir Titov: So far, Norway has refused to hold any consultations on the Russian presence on Spitsbergen, although there are quite a few problems to discuss. These include restrictions on flights by the Arktikugol helicopter, the deportation procedure adopted exclusively for Russian citizens, restricted access to research and tourism areas, the underpayment of funds to the Russian settlements from the Spitsbergen budget, the detainment of Russian vessels in the so-called fisheries protection zone, and other issues. The Norwegian authorities argue that we should take these problems up with the Spitsbergen governor, but the resources available to him are obviously insufficient for settling them. Fundamental problems are piling up. Moreover, contrary to the 1920 Treaty which guarantees “equal liberty of access and entry” to the Archipelago and equal economic opportunities, environmental protection reasons are being used to restrict the development of tourism, full-scale research and business projects.
In reply to our calls for dialogue, Oslo cites the absence of a mechanism for consultations with the signatories of the 1920 Treaty, saying that Russia is no exception in this case. We cannot accept this explanation. Out of the 44 signatories to the 1920 Treaty, only Norway and Russia conduct economic activities on Spitsbergen.
The problems of economic operators on the Archipelago are a staple issue on the agenda of Russian-Norwegian political and diplomatic contacts. It should be remembered that Russia has been engaged in economic activities on Spitsbergen for decades and does not intend to curtail its presence there.
Question: NATO’s growing activity along Russia’s northern borders is another irritating thing regarding our relations with Norway, where the Alliance held a number of major exercises. They are proactive in drawing neutral countries such as Finland and Sweden with their military infrastructure into these exercises. Does Russia view this as a threat to its national security and Arctic operations?
Vladimir Titov: Actions by the Norwegian authorities to step up their military activity, including NATO’s military preparations, at times in the direct vicinity of the Russian border, invite a number of questions. Plans that are being drafted in Norway to develop its military are clearly anti-Russian.
American marines and British service personnel are permanently stationed in Norway, and plans to increase the headcount in these units have been announced. We see that Norway has been departing from its 1949 “base policy” whereby it refused to house foreign military bases on its territory during peacetime.
The number of times NATO submarines, including nuclear ones, entered Norwegian ports has doubled over the past 10 years. A new powerful radar is under construction as part of the effort to upgrade the Globus II radio station in Vardo in northern Norway 50 kilometres away from the Russian border. It will be used to survey Russia’s air space in the interests of the US missile defence system. Norway’s military command says it wants to deploy new detachments beyond the Arctic Circle and hold more exercises with its allies. Last year, NATO used Norway’s Orland airbase during the multinational air force exercise Arctic Challenge 2019. More than 100 aircraft from the US, Great Britain, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, the Netherlands, as well as Sweden and Finland, took part in it. At the same time, for some reason Norway tends to overact when Russia holds military exercises in the north, including the Russian Navy that complies with international law without creating any security threats for Norway.
Efforts by the Norwegian government to step up military activity in the Arctic and to include this region into NATO’s area of responsibility provide a recipe for undermining the current peace, stability and atmosphere of cooperation in the region.
Question: Has Boris Johnson’s premiership brought about any positive shifts in Britain’s attitude towards Russia? Could Brexit somehow free Britain’s hand and help us expand the horizons of our economic cooperation that has been far better than the stagnating political relations to begin with?
Vladimir Titov: In our relations with the United Kingdom, Russia proceeds from the premise that it is time for us to turn the page and move on. We have made a proposal to this effect. We remain committed to stepping up mutually beneficial contacts in the key spheres. Russia is ready to move towards normalising and expanding ties to whatever extent the British side would be willing to accept.
We have been receiving signals from London lately that they are indeed ready to move towards restoring our cooperation. Time will tell whether these intentions are real.
As for Brexit, we view it as an opportunity to take a new look on how to develop trade and economic relations between our countries. We propose holding bilateral consultations on this matter. The ball is in Britain’s court now, but it is taking time until the talks with the EU are completed.
Question: Sweden has been asking Russia to open all archives relating to diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Why not accommodate Stockholm’s request?
Vladimir Titov: Formed in January 1991, the joint Russian-Swedish working group on Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg completed its work in 2001. The group held over 20 plenary meetings, multiple expert events, and reviewed more than 10,000 archival documents. They went beyond the usual and explored prison registers setting out the dates and time when inmates were summoned for interrogation.
Sweden received all the available material in full. The final reports drafted by the Russian and Swedish chapters of the working group set out the outcomes of these efforts.
Russia has not refused to continue working together on searching for information on what happened to Raoul Wallenberg, even though the work of the group has run its course. Over the past years we reviewed several dozen requests from Swedish experts and researchers from other countries searching for information on this diplomat. A substantial number of newly declassified documents have been sent to Sweden. However, this did not really help uncover any new meaningful documentary evidence, including on the hypothesis that has been extensively publicised by a number of Swedish researchers over the past years claiming that Raoul Wallenberg was alive after July 17, 1947, the date when he died in a Soviet prison.