Interfax: Interview with Ambassador Alexander Grushko, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to NATO

File Photo of Official at Podium in Front of Large NATO-Russia Council Signage

(Interfax – August 28, 2014) Question: Ambassador Grushko, it is clear from statements by NATO leaders what kinds of decisions on Russia and in response to events in Ukraine may come at the alliance’s forthcoming summit. If the proposals announced to date are adopted in Wales, will it start a new Cold War between Russia and NATO? Will the “divorce” be irreversible?

Answer: It is too early to say what decisions the alliance will make at its summit in Wales, including those on further dialogue with Russia. Statements by NATO leaders show that they intend to continue building up the operational readiness of NATO forces and moving its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders under the false pretext of addressing threats from the East. These measures are unjustified and directed against Russia. Obviously, they will further complicate Russia-NATO relations, which are already close to the freezing point. Needless to say, we will take into account the new configuration and activity of NATO forces at Russia’s frontiers in our military planning and take all the necessary measures to ensure security in the face of any and all threats.

Question: There have been reports that Baltic countries and Poland intend to insist at the summit that NATO forces be permanently deployed in the region. How will Russia react to this?

Answer: Let’s see what decisions are adopted at the summit. It is clear, however, that pursuing such plans that run counter to our mutual commitments under core documents will not support stability or predictability in our relations. I’m confident that NATO understands that any attempts to project force in Russia’s direction are hopelessly misguided and counterproductive. They will only serve to weaken the security of NATO and those countries that participate. The interests of pan-European security will be seriously jeopardised, all the more so since this is a region where direct military threats have become a thing of the distant past.

I’m confident that the majority of European countries understand that no matter how much NATO is built up, any attempts to form a viable security system without Russia – not to mention with Russia as the target – are doomed to fail.

Question: NATO has joined the United States in accusing Russia of violating provisions of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). Meanwhile, Russia has said repeatedly that the missile defence elements NATO plans to deploy in Romania and Poland include missiles that fall under the treaty’s restrictions. If NATO deploys them, will Russia withdraw from the treaty?

Answer: These are contrived attempts to draw NATO into a public debate of the treaty. It’s telling that this flood of information about the treaty is coming shortly before the summit, which obviously benefits those who’d like to portray Russia as an enemy. Remember that the INF Treaty is bilateral and its sides have all the necessary mechanisms for conducting dialogue and settling any issues that arise. We have always been open to dialogue with the United States on the full range of non-proliferation and arms control issues, including this treaty, all the more so since we have serious grievances about US compliance with it. It is worth mentioning here the dummy missiles used for testing missile defence that are similar to medium- and shorter-range missiles in performance, unmanned aerial vehicles that fall under the treaty’s definition of ground-based cruise missiles, and plans for ground-based deployment in Poland and Romania of Mk-41 VLS that are capable of launching intermediate-range cruise missiles.

Question: The planned withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Afghanistan may become one of key items on the NATO summit’s agenda. Western analysts are divided on the results of ISAF’s mission. Some think it was successful while others view it as a failure. What do you think?

Answer: We have said on numerous occasions that we consider ISAF’s withdrawal hasty and motivated primarily by political considerations. As international contingents have drawn down in Afghanistan, the security situation has deteriorated: the government is losing control of some provinces, while the Taliban is stepping up operations (according to UN estimates, the number of Taliban attacks grew by 11 percent in 2013, and by 15-20 percent according to unofficial sources), blocking transport corridors and sabotaging infrastructure projects. Civilian deaths are rising, including as a result of fighting between rebels and Afghan security forces. These developments are taking place against the backdrop of political setbacks and a deteriorating economy. The drug situation is disastrous, with drug production continuing to grow.

I don’t want to understate ISAF’s contribution to stabilising Afghanistan. Indeed, it has done much to train Afghan security forces. However, NATO has not fulfilled the task it set itself, particularly in terms of stabilising the country. We expect the alliance to report to the UN Security Council at the end of the year since ISAF operates under a UN mandate.

Question: NATO’s further presence in Afghanistan will also be discussed at the summit. What does Russia think about a new operation in Afghanistan? Can the scaled-back forces of NATO allies and their partners really enhance security in Afghanistan?

Answer: If 140,000 soldiers could not achieve a security breakthrough, what will 12,000 be able to do? We believe there are two important aspects to consider. First, it is necessary to maintain a sound legal framework for the continued presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan. The ISAF mission is authorised by mandate of the UN Security Council, in part, Resolution 1386. A new Security Council resolution for NATO’s new training mission would create a solid foundation for a joint international effort to help Afghanistan. Remember that Resolution 1386 stipulates simplified procedures for military shipments to and from Afghanistan, and this is part of all of our transit agreements with Italy, the United States, France, Germany, Spain and other countries.

The second aspect concerns the strategic goals that NATO hopes to achieve in Afghanistan. We have no doubts about the continued assistance to the Afghan security forces. However, we’ll raise concerns if the new NATO mission goes beyond the mandate coordinated with the Afghan authorities to include other objectives.

Question: Joint Russia-NATO projects for Afghanistan were suspended in April along with other forms of bilateral cooperation. How does Russia plan to contribute to Afghanistan’s security and development?

Answer: We’ll continue helping Afghanistan on a bilateral basis and in existing regional and international formats. We intend to continue implementing projects previously carried out in the Russia-NATO Council format. I’m referring to the training of anti-drug personnel for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asian countries and Afghan technicians for the maintenance of Russian Mi-17/Mi-35 helicopters. At present we are analysing possibilities of continuing these projects independently or with other partners.

Question: Will you continue the practice of ambassadors’ meetings as part of the Russia-NATO Council? Are such meetings necessary under the circumstances?

Answer: I wouldn’t rule this out if these meetings really produce “value added.”

[featured image is file photo, not directly related to article]