Interview of Ambassador Alexander Grushko to the newspaper «Izvestiya», 8 November 2017

The NATO-Russia Council meeting took place. Is there any progress in the relations?

Alexander Grushko: We can hardly talk about any progress. NATO continues to stick to the decisions taken at the summits in Wales and Warsaw. All practical cooperation has been frozen. Still, there has been some movement. After a two-year pause, political dialogue has been intensified, discussions have become more substantive. It is important that contacts have been reestablished at the high military level.

Russia has never shied away from dialogue, including on difficult issues. After all, the NRC was created as an "all-weather" communication channel. And it would be a mistake to abandon the very possibility to exchange views on the military and political situation in Europe, Afghanistan and other regions affecting the security interests of the NRC members through a direct dialogue, and not through media and microphones.

At the latest NRC meeting we had a frank conversation about the military-political situation in Europe. It has been complicated by unjustified measures taken by NATO and the US to strengthen the so-called eastern "flank". The pumping of the Baltic region, Central and South-Eastern Europe with military personnel, armaments and equipment continues. Frequency and scale of NATO exercises, aimed at training on a full range of deterrence tasks, have increased. In fact, a chain of endless activities is taking place with a common task of developing the operational theatre in Central and Eastern Europe and building the capacity to project force. And it's not just about the notorious four battalion battle groups and NATO force integration units.  The United States has consistently implemented the European reassurance initiative. An armored brigade and an army aviation brigade have been deployed to Europe on a rotational basis. Ammunition for another land brigade has been placed in the warehouses, plans to deploy marines in Norway have been announced. Implementation of plans to create a European missile defense sites in Romania and Poland is under way. Nuclear sharing missions with the involvement of non-nuclear countries are conducted in violation of the NPT.

All these are integral elements of the current security equation, which we are forced to take into account in our military planning so as to ensure in a reliable way our defence capabilities in all possible scenarios. We do everything necessary for this. Ultimately, not only do all these steps by NATO countries create risks for European security, deepen existing dividing lines, but also worsen the security of the Allied countries, especially those who declared themselves to be at the "frontline". Attention and resources are diverted from real, not mythical, threats that require to join efforts. All this shapes a new military reality. Though NATO officials claim these measures are not a provocation, but a "defensive and proportionate reaction" to the changes in the security environment, today we see that NATO forces have appeared where they have never been before and where they should not be on such a scale and for such a period in accordance with the provisions of the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

Military planning does not exist beyond politics. Today we observe how strengthening of the eastern «flank» generates new myths about «hostility» of Russia. A propaganda campaign around the Russian-Belarusian exercise «Zapad-2017» has reached the top of it. And it was launched regardless the unprecedented measures of transparency that were taken, including within the framework of the NRC and the OSCE. Special briefings were held in Moscow and Minsk. Observers were invited, including from NATO member countries. By the way, they have not questioned neither the number of involved troops and resources, nor the level of transparency performed by the Russian and Belarusian sides. But these evaluations did not eventually break through the muddy roll of horror stories in the media.

We observe propaganda attempts to exaggerate a «threat from the East» in order to persuade the public of the inevitability of the increase in military expenses. And it also enhances tensions and conflict potential in international relations.

Another aspect. Representatives from NATO countries often stress the importance of transparency, mutual informing of exercises. This is normal, but under conditions that such actions should influence the character of evaluations and actions of each other. Meanwhile, we have a feeling that there is no visible link between briefings, objective results of the inspections, evaluation visits under the Vienna Document, observation flights under the Open Skies Treaty, other confidence-building instruments and political statements of representatives of some NATO members. There are attempts today to keep afloat that propaganda bubble that had been inflamed around the «Zapad-2017» exercise before it was conducted. According to the rhetoric from some Western capitals, there are those who dream to get into the trenches of the «cold war» and enjoy all the beauties of being there.

It is clear that a serious dialogue about de-escalation, restoration of trust, prevention of dangerous military incidents – and NATO officials talk a lot about that – requires maintenance of systematic contacts, including, naturally, within the NRC format. This would have allowed to find ways to decrease tensions. But NATO froze such ties. Hopefully, contacts between Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia Valery Gerasimov and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee Petr Pavel and Supreme Allied Commander Europe Curtis Scaparrotti will allow to reach a working dialogue between military officials.     

Afghanistan is the most promising topic for a potential cooperation between Russia and NATO. NATO has been operating in Afghanistan since 2001. Moscow supported the UN Security Council resolution that authorized NATO operation. There was a period when Russia opened a transit point for NATO in Ulyanovsk, which was used to withdraw the Alliance's troops from Afghanistan. The threat of terrorism from the territory of Afghanistan concerns both Moscow and NATO. So why both sides can not come to mutually beneficial cooperation at least there?

Alexander Grushko: We constantly discuss this issue within the NATO-Russia Council. We raised it during the last meeting of the NRC, where the Special Representative of the President of Russia for Afghanistan H.E.Zamir Kabulov was invited. The Afghan settlement affects the security interests of Russia and NATO states. The situation in the country continues to worsen, which, in fact, is recognized by NATO members who are now working to strengthen the train, advise and assist Resolute Support Mission and to send additional personnel to the country. The paradox is that while declaring that we should not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorist organizations, including ISIL, with the terrorist threat spilling over beyond this country - and such risks exist - NATO members have cut off all practical cooperation with us. Who benefited from the suspension of a joint project to train anti-drug officers from Afghanistan, Central Asia and Pakistan? In total, within the framework of the NRC, more than 4,000 officers were trained for relevant agencies. Has the capability of the
Afghan army to control the country's territory increased after the NRC project for training Afghan technicians maintaining Russian and Soviet helicopters was suspended? These helicopters form the core of the Afghan Air Force.

The list of missed opportunities can be continued. Russia is ready to cooperate with all those who are genuinely interested in establishing peace in this country, do not pursue mercenary geopolitical goals that are not compatible with the goal of stabilizing Afghanistan.

However, today there are no signs that NATO will be ready to restore activities of the NATO-Russia Working group on Afghanistan or to unfreeze joint projects which are important for the security of citizens of Russia and NATO countries. The alliance has adopted a political decision, from which real security of our states and citizens suffers, especially when it comes to drugs. At the same time, I would like to note that at present, Afghans constitute a large part of the migration flow to Europe.

Earlier you spoke about problems within the Alliance. Despite certain differences, NATO is probably one the most successful military and political organizations. At least it has existed for over 50 years now. With Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House are there any reasons to talk about a serious crisis within NATO? And is the Alliance going to be able to overcome it?

Alexander Grushko: Although NATO has a rigid block discipline and the organization tries to speak with one voice and demonstrate the strength of the transatlantic link, it is evident that members of the Alliance have different priorities and assessments of threats according to their relevance. This is clearly seen in the statements made by Heads of States and Ministers of NATO countries. The so-called “frontliners” are doing their best to return the Alliance to its initial function by making up a “big enemy”. Others, on the other hand, obviously do not seek to roll back to confrontation and understand that without Russia – and especially against Russia – building a viable security system is impossible. Meanwhile, southerners are openly concerned with the scale of challenges emanating from the MENA region that have a direct impact on their security. Therefore they are trying to find ways to participate more actively in international efforts to combat terrorism and stabilize that area.

Clearly, the US as the “main shareholder” in the Alliance plays the leading role in determining NATO priorities and fields of activity. It is too early to evaluate the policies of the new Administration, but we can say that there has been no major shift in Washington’s take on the role of the Alliance, except for perhaps the hardening of its demands for Europeans to increase their military budgets.

If we consider NATO’s ‘success’ story, it would be the history of its operations in the Balkans and MENA, the consequences of which are well known. And these dark stains will stay forever on the façade of “the most successful” alliance.

It is evident that NATO is in the process of finding a new role for itself. Ultimately, a lot will depend on its ability to participate in wider international efforts, to cooperate with all players and organizations that are active in the Eurasian and Euro-Atlantic area. That, in turn, demands the Alliance to redefine its role in new security circumstances. Not as “an unquestionable source of political legitimacy and military power” – as Secretary General Anders Fog Rasmussen stated – but as an organization that is willing to make a real input in global security on a collective basis, to counter real, not mythical threats. Meanwhile, we see that the “genetic code” that was developed way back in 1949 continues to manifest itself both in politics and in military build-up.

Most recently Montenegro has joined the Alliance. The Ukrainian leadership has announced its intention to join NATO. There are such discussions among Georgian authorities. Are there any other candidates? What are the prospects for the next stage of NATO enlargement and when can it happen?

Alexander Grushko: Our attitude remains unchanged - the policy of NATO enlargement was vicious from the very beginning and has reached its limits. This geopolitical project, implemented in violation of promises that NATO would not move “an inch” to the East, hasn't solved any real problem of the European continent. By the way, many political analysts have already called it the greatest US miscalculation in the 20th century. On the contrary, this policy deepens the dividing lines, creates new ones, incites the search for an enemy. In the current circumstances, it is impossible to create ‘island of security for the chosen’. What we need is a collective security system that would promote the combination, and not the separation of efforts to combat new threats and risks, and would contribute to building a fair world order.

Interview was published by "Izvestia" on 8 November 2017: