First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov’s interview with News.ru, July 23, 2020
Question: The United Sates is planning to redeploy part of its military contingent from Germany to Poland. Do Russian Federation leaders see Warsaw’s step as anti-Russian, given the provisions of the new National Security Strategy? Will Russia take this into account in its military planning? Will the Russian military groups in Kaliningrad be reinforced?
Vladimir Titov: Unfortunately, Warsaw is leaving no room for doubt that both its past military-political steps and the most recent ones you mentioned are directed against Russia. Poland’s recently approved national security doctrine has confirmed this once again. In general, one has the impression that the ruling political forces in Poland have turned Russophobia and a perpetual fight against an imaginary Russian threat into very nearly the main component of their foreign policy.
On the whole, the deployment of US and NATO military forces in the direct vicinity of the Russian border has been increasing steadily, including the new military infrastructure and combat equipment concentrations. As for Russian military planning, I think it is clear to everyone that we have been regularly monitoring all attempts to change the alignment of forces in this region with an eye to a fitting and timely response.
Question: Recent reports also said that the US nuclear arsenal could be redeployed from Germany to Poland, not just the military contingent. Warsaw, however, rejected these plans. How realistic is this scenario? Do you think that Russia and the United States should discuss this matter at their consultations on strategic stability?
Vladimir Titov: Russia’s consistent position is that the continuing deployment of a large US force in Germany after this country’s reunification in 1990 is a leftover from the Cold War, even more so with respect to US nuclear forces deployed in Germany. But far from reducing its military presence in Europe, Washington continues to hone practical skills of using nuclear weapons during so-called joint nuclear missions involving NATO’s non-nuclear states, something that explicitly violates the basic provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
As for a discussion on the potential redeployment of US nuclear forces from Germany to Poland, closer to Russian borders, I would not like to make a public prediction.
This is a very sensitive matter for both Russia and NATO countries that affects the foundations of strategic stability in Europe. Any actions in this area will inevitably have grave consequences for all sides. I am sure that the Polish leadership is conscious of that. In its relations with the North Atlantic Alliance Russia invariably advocates a reduction in military-political tensions in Europe. NATO representatives also point to the importance of restraint, but for this it is necessary, at the very least, to refrain from changing the existing balance. The potential appearance of US nuclear weapons in Poland would directly violate the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act.
Question: Are Russia and Germany in contact as regards the new US sanctions against Nord Stream 2? Does Moscow believe that the German government’s position on this gas pipeline project will remain unchanged?
Vladimir Titov: We know that Germany consistently supports Nord Stream 2. The pipeline ensures stable, competitively priced gas distribution to Germany and other European countries via the shortest route. Strategically, Nord Stream 2 will strengthen Europe’s energy security for decades to come. Natural gas and this infrastructure can be used to promote new opportunities in energy, including hydrogen.
The US’s attempts to impede the construction of Nord Stream 2 are a combination of deliberate politicisation of energy cooperation and unfair competition. Pretending to be concerned about Europe’s energy security, Washington is actually trying to dictate to the Europeans what energy policy they should pursue. But below the surface is an effort to minimise the use of Russian gas in the EU market and promote the use of its own fossil fuels.
Both EU leaders and the German government have declared that the US sanctions against the project are unacceptable.
Question: Russia said that Germany has failed to provide evidence to substantiate its charges that Moscow was implicated in the 2015 hacker attack on the Bundestag. Are there any changes regarding this matter?
Vladimir Titov: The German side has provided no evidence of this. References to some “intelligence data” made in public statements, press releases and media reports are not proof of anything. Grave charges of this kind must be supported by convincing and verifiable materials based on objective technical data. Berlin’s continued silence is just further obvious proof that their unfounded accusations against Russia were originally aimed at launching yet another anti-Russia campaign.
We regard Germany’s attempts to use so-called EU cyber sanctions against Russia as unacceptable for Russian-German relations and international cooperation in the information security area. Indicatively, Berlin came up with this initiative ahead of the German court ruling on the hacker attack you mentioned. So, there was no court decision yet, but the guilty party and a punishment were already assigned. This only confirms the suspicion that German authorities were deliberately designing a conflict situation.
Moreover, in 2014, Berlin froze, under a far-fetched pretext, the Russian-German expert cyber dialogue. We call on our German partners to resume this dialogue, specifically to re-launch a separate format for high level interagency consultations on international cyber security, which was effective in the past.
Question: Will Moscow respond, if the EU introduces, at Germany’s initiative, cyber sanctions over the hacker attack on the Bundestag?
Vladimir Titov: We will wait and see. If EU cyber sanctions become a reality, we certainly will not leave it unanswered. At the same time, we have repeatedly stated that any kind of prohibitive measures in international relations will put us on a dead-end track. We can deal with our differences through dialogue.
Likewise, we couldn’t help but notice an element of legal absurdity in our German colleagues’ reasoning. In response to a four-year-old cyber incident, Berlin wants to use a framework mechanism of EU restrictions that emerged only in 2019. In other words, they are trying to apply it retroactively.
Question: Czech spokespersons claim that their government regards the conflict with Russia as settled after the reciprocal expulsion of diplomats. Does Moscow agree with these assertions?
Vladimir Titov: By declaring, in June 2020, under absolutely far-fetched pretexts, employees of the Russian Embassy in Prague persona non grata, the Czech side took a provocative and unfriendly step. Either of its own free will or at somebody’s prompting, the Czech Republic consciously chose to dramatically aggravate relations with Russia, a totally ungrounded move that forced us to respond in kind.
Thus, the Czech side’s unfriendly actions have done much harm to bilateral relations, which have rapidly deteriorated. We hope that Prague will learn a lesson. The conflict will be over, when the Czech authorities give up on provoking Russia on many issues.
Question: Who will represent Russia at talks with the Czech Republic on the fate of the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev? Is there information on a date, timeline and format?
Vladimir Titov: Generally, both sides understand that they need to hold a discussion on problems in bilateral relations based on Article 5 of the 1993 Russian-Czech interstate Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation.
An important item on the current agenda is the fate of the monument to Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Konev, which was dismantled by the Prague-6 municipal authorities in violation of the above treaty in April 2020. But our relations currently have several problems besides this incident.
We have been calling for this discussion for a long time now. But one has the impression that the Czech side has used every expedient to avoid it.
We are cautiously optimistic in connection with the recently announced appointment of Head of the Foreign Department at the Office of the President of the Czech Republic Rudolf Jindrák as special representative at consultations. For my part, I am prepared to act as his counterpart.
Regrettably, the obstacle to organising this meeting is the persisting unfavourable sanitary and epidemiological situation and the related restrictions on travel. This is why the Russian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Alexander Zmeyevsky has been duly authorised to negotiate with the Czech side so as to provide an impetus for launching the negotiating process. We hope for an early start to consultations.