Council of Europe (CoE)
Director of the Department for European Cooperation Andrey Kelin’s interview with Rossiya Segodnya December 4, 2017
Question: The traditional OSCE Ministerial Council will take place on December 7 and 8. This year it will be held in Vienna. As usual, the Russian delegation at this event will be led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. What initiatives will the delegation bring to the meeting?
Andrey Kelin: The annual OSCE Ministerial Council meetings are held primarily as a dialogue venue for numerous bilateral contacts where international organisations are represented, and where participants express their opinions and, of course, review the political results of the outgoing year. It is a big political event. This time we will promote the same priorities we always promote: the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. We will also speak about cooperation in cybersecurity and the alignment of integration processes, or more precisely, the development of cooperation between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Another important issue concerns the protection of traditional values. Of course, we will also raise the issues of non-citizenship and infringements on the language and education rights in some member states.
Question: With whom does the foreign minister plan to meet on the sidelines of this event?
Andrey Kelin: The minister intends to hold many meetings. We have received many requests from other ministers and delegation heads. We are still working on the schedule.
Question: Will the minister hold talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson?
Andrey Kelin: We have no confirmation of his attendance yet.
Question: Are we ready for the possibility of this meeting?
Andrey Kelin: We are always ready for any contact, of course.
Question: It appears that the idea of sending UN peacekeepers to protect OSCE observers in eastern Ukraine has stalled. This is not surprising, considering the opposing positions of the concerned parties. For example, US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker said again recently that the United States believes the UN peacekeeping force must be able to control the entire contested area in Donbass, including the Ukrainian side of the Ukraine-Russia border, and that they do not want Russians to be involved in the UN peacekeeping force. It is clear that no progress will be made on this unless the parties met each other halfway. Is Russia willing to moderate its position on the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Donbass?
Andrey Kelin: Our position is that the UN-mandated peacekeeping operations should be held to support the OSCE mission. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) has been working for a long time, and it has had its drawbacks. For example, its reports are not always completely objective. However, we believe that the SMM should continue working. The SMM is part of the Minsk Agreements, the implementation of which is advocated not only by Russia but also by the Normandy format countries. The United States has also indicated that it supports the implementation of the Minsk II accords.
Therefore, UN peacekeepers are needed to protect the OSCE observers. It is another matter how they would do this. I know that those responsible for the OSCE Mission have certain doubts regarding this because they believe that their observers would be safer as unarmed civilians than if they are protected by armed personnel.
Question: Does this mean that we will not change our position on peacekeepers?
Andrey Kelin: At this point, our position is firm and absolutely substantiated. It is based on the need to implement the Minsk Agreements. These agreements must be implemented consistently. Political guarantees must be provided for the Donbass people. This includes amendments to the Constitution, an amnesty and elections, and only then will we be able to talk about the [resumption of government control over the] Russia-Ukraine border.
Question: The Pentagon said in mid-November that it had made the decision to supply about $10.5 billion worth of Patriot missile-defence systems to Poland. They could be delivered in 2019. What will Russia’s response be to this strengthening of NATO’s positions near our borders?
Andrey Kelin: US and NATO efforts to deploy a missile-defence system are a major destructive factor that undermines stability in Europe. Since a deal on Iran’s nuclear issue was reached, the pretext for the step-by-step creation of a missile-defence system has disappeared, and now it is clear that Iran was not the reason for building a missile-defence system.
Indeed, in addition to a NATO-wide missile-defence system, national efforts are also under way. In particular, Warsaw is building its so-called Polish Shield, which they say will be integrated into the NATO system. All of this will have a negative impact on the atmosphere in Europe.
Earlier, we proposed some forms of missile-defence cooperation with NATO that could have eliminated that negative impact, but all our attempts and proposals were rejected. So in addition to including this in our defence planning, we will take commensurate steps to restore stability in Europe. As for exactly what kind of steps, our Defence Ministry is responsible for that.
Question: Finland and Sweden are more often publicly speaking about the security threat coming from Russia. Their cooperation with NATO is deepening but they say they have no plans to join the alliance. Moscow is already talking at the top level about the consequences of Helsinki and Stockholm joining the organisation. Does Russia really believe that Finland and Sweden will eventually become NATO members?
Andrey Kelin: This is a difficult question. These countries work closely with NATO in the military sphere. This has been going on for many years. This is nothing new. We are aware of this and watch the trends closely. These countries hold joint exercises and their representatives participate in NATO governing bodies meetings. We know that NATO would like to make this cooperation so close as to draw them into its orbit. However, we also know that there are independent influences in both Helsinki and Stockholm that are opposed to NATO membership and believe in preserving the status quo. For our part, we see opportunities – and they are being used – for strengthening security in the Baltic region on a non-NATO basis. This is especially important today when there are significantly more warships and warplanes in the Baltic region and therefore more possibilities for military incidents. Our Swedish partners confirmed to me in recent consultations that since ICAO adopted a code of conduct for state aviation, which is part of military aviation, tensions have eased and no air incidents have been recorded recently.
Question: Are we sure that NATO will continue to expand?
Andrey Kelin: Washington’s main efforts are currently focused on bringing in the western Balkans and after Montenegro, drawing other countries in. To this end, enormous efforts are being made, including political pressure, as was the case in Montenegro, and interference in domestic affairs, which is a violation of the Helsinki principles. So we are aware of this political pressure.
Question: Should we expect the alliance to expand further?
Andrey Kelin: NATO has an open-door policy. We certainly cannot ignore this, since any wave of NATO expansion is a compounding factor in European security, especially when relations are so bad.
Question: In September, Zapad [West] 2017 Russian-Belarusian exercises took place, which caused serious concern among NATO members. Does Russia intend to continue the exercises next year?
Andrey Kelin: This is a question for the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, but I would like to say that, at approximately the same time, NATO conducted about a dozen and a half drills in Europe as part of a single plan. So our Western partners have no cause for concern: They conduct large-scale exercises themselves. Needless to say, none of this is good for stability. I’m sure that to improve predictability, we need to share information on these exercises and this is what we do at the Russia-NATO Council.
Question: Maia Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, earlier said that the Russian law on the status of foreign agents with regard to the media jeopardises the country’s free and independent media. The OSCE also stressed recently that both US and Russian steps in this direction are dangerous and unacceptable. Can you explain the difference between our law and US measures in relation to the Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik?
Andrey Kelin: Frankly, we’ve been less than happy with the activity of the new OSCE representative on freedom of the media. Initially, he completely ignored the action taken against RT in the United States and sprang to life only when it came to the point of our measures in response to that. After all, an OSCE representative is not supposed to make hasty statements but get to the bottom of things. What we have here is the same old practice where a public statement is made right from the outset without an attempt to understand who is right and who is wrong. It is essential to make the distinction between action and counteraction. As for the corresponding EU’s statement, we were not surprised. It seems that Brussels is completely unaware of the Americans’ actions with regard to Russian media outlets.
Question: Does Russia plan to contribute to the Council of Europe’s budget?
Andrey Kelin: The Council of Europe is based on three fundamental things: intergovernmental cooperation, parliamentary cooperation and regional cooperation. Lately we have seen a lot of disputes in PACE that affect not only us but other countries as well. MPs use PACE not so much for discussions and sharing their views as for setting up all sorts of investigation committees. This speaks of a deep crisis that has affected the Parliamentary Assembly and we are afraid that it will spill over to the entire organisation that essentially provides the groundwork for a common humanitarian space. Therefore our main goal is to resolve this crisis and have our MPs’ rights reinstated in full. This is a challenging task. The CE leadership, our MPs and our Foreign Ministry are working on this. Right now it is hard to say what the situation will be at the beginning of the year. We will make a decision later.