Joint press conference of Russia's Ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko and Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov following the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council meeting, October 26, 2017

Alexander Grushko: We had a good opportunity to present our assessments of NATO activities on the eastern flank. Our assessments are well known, we have repeatedly voiced them out publicly and in contacts with NATO colleagues. These efforts seriously worsen the security situation in Europe, create or deepen existing dividing lines, in fact divert our attention from the constructive agenda, which objectively requires not the split of efforts, not the diversion of resources for certain mythic non-existent threats, but the search for ways to combine efforts in fighting common challenges and security threats.
First and foremost, it has to do with the fight against terrorism - and this task is very urgent in the context of Afghanistan. Our common interest is to prevent the
transformation of Afghanistan into a "safe haven" for terrorists and extremists and a burst of instability to Central Asia.

Deployments within the framework of NATO programs of battalion groups on a rotational, but permanent basis in Poland and the Baltic States worsen the situation. We also gave same assessments to the US European Reassurance Initiative which is taking on new forms every month.

By now, one US armoured and one US aviation brigade have been stationed in Europe. The warehouses in Europe have been supplied with a set of weaponry sufficient for arming another brigade. We also pointed to the NATO continuing activities and their reinforcement in the Black Sea region, which also worsen regional security and destabilize it. We have analyzed other factors.

One of the most important factors that affect the state of European security is a continued implementation of the US plans to create a European segment of missile defense system in Romania and Poland. Missile defense exercises that were conducted recently testify to the true orientation of these plans. As is known, the Iranian nuclear problem was solved. But the development of the US program continues in accordance with the plans that were approved before the final stage of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program.

We expressed our concern about the NATO continuing practice of involving non-nuclear states of the alliance in joint nuclear missions in violation of articles I and II of the NPT. This is also important in terms of compliance with the provisions of the Russia-NATO Founding Act, which remains one of the few pillars of material stability and security in Europe.

Our feeling is that NATO countries are not interested in breaking the channels of communication in these difficult conditions. We managed to achieve some progress in establishing mil-to-mil contacts. The Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov met with the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee Petr Pavel, he also held a telephone conversation with SACEUR Curtis Scaparrotti. There is a hope that these contacts will persist and become systemic.

We discussed the need to increase transparency, predictability, prevent further escalation of the situation in the military sphere and to find ways to prevent dangerous military activities, incidents of a dangerous nature. We have strange impressions from these discussions. It is hardly worth convincing Russia of the need for such instruments. If we look at what was created in Europe, we will see that it was the result of Russian efforts at various international fora. Russia remains the "champion" in terms of the number of inspections on its territory - of inspection teams in accordance with the Vienna document, observation flights in accordance with the Open Skies Treaty.

We have pointed out that the accusations of the lack of transparency NATO countries should address to themselves. After today's meeting, we have a clear understanding that if NATO countries are really interested in moving towards de-escalation, towards strengthened security, in order to create prerequisites for confidence building, they must take steps that would restore a a normal - here no one talks about any extraordinary efforts - but a normal fabric of military contacts and interaction.

How can we be transparent, if all the instruments of transparency were broken by NATO. We do not have a NATO-Russia Council at the level of military representatives, the work of all working groups that were created within the framework of the Russia-NATO Council to exchange information on what is done in the military area have been suspended. All opportunities for a systematic dialogue on the prevention of dangerous military incidents have been cut.

We are convinced that the progress towards strengthening military confidence can be achieved not through changes in the Vienna Document, but through the policy changes. If NATO policy is aimed at military deterrence of Russia, then no confidence-building measures will help. Conversely, confidence-building measures can help in building confidence when there is a political project that is based on the understanding that security should not be built on the logic of the Cold War.

When assessing the number of troops involved in the exercise Zapad-2017 NATO members calculated all military activities that were taking place on the territory of the Russian Federation. The Vienna Document details the notifiable military activities as «the engagement of formations of land forces of the participating States in the same exercise activity conducted under a single operational command».

We underlined the unacceptability of propaganda of NATO countries around the exercises and military activities of the Russian Federation. First of all, this relates to the Zapad-2017 exercise, which was subject to an unprecedented propaganda attack. You remember what was written in the Western media and announced by leaders of some NATO countries: that this exercise is meant as a preparation for the invasion into the Baltic countries, that Russia has plans to conquer Ukraine, that the Russian troops will enter Belarus and will not leave, but will remain there forever.

As a result of the exercise there are no Russian troops in Belarus, while the number of the US troops in Poland has increased. At the same time behind this demonization of Zapad-2017 exercise somehow the exercises Aurora-2017 in Sweden and Dragon-2017 in Poland remained unnoticed, where various tasks were trained - defensive, counterdefensive and offensive. Therefore, we raised the question about the value of such discussions not only at the NRC, but also in other formats.

Russia and Belarus took unprecedented efforts to ensure transparency and inform our partners in advance about the goals and objectives of this exercise. We gave a briefing at the official meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. Belarusian colleagues held a meeting in Brussels, explained how they see the conduct of the exercise. A briefing was given by the Belarusian side at the OSCE Forum for security cooperation.

On the eve of the exercise information events took place in Moscow and Minsk with the invitation of all military attaches accredited in the capitals. Notifications were given in accordance with the provisions of the Vienna Document, observers were invited to main phases of the exercise. However, the ideological message, which was chosen before the exercise, continues to prevail. Today we hear accusations that "Zapad" in its scale allegedly did not correspond to the declared parameters, but these assessments are not based on anything. And secondly, they were voiced even before the exercise itself. If NATO countries are serious about these information exchanges, then, of course, they must influence the nature of political assessments. Otherwise, it will be difficult to find internal incentives to continue this practice.

We had a discussion on Ukraine. Neither NATO nor the NATO-Russia Council play or are intended to play any role in the settlement of the internal Ukrainian crisis. Therefore, we had a rather concise discussion of the issue. We all understand that at the moment the regime in Kiev is heading towards the scrap of the Minsk agreements. We drew attention of the NRC member states to the laws on education and on reintegration and to some other steps of the Kiev authorities, which contradict not only the provisions of the Constitution of Ukraine, but the letter and spirit of the Minsk agreements.

Without real movement towards the implementation of the political package of measures envisaged in the Minsk Agreements, no settlement will be achieved. We also talked about the ways to improve the security situation. Our positions are well known. We call for the disengagement of sides. The Ukrainian side should stop shelling of the civilian population. We call on parties to strictly implement the provisions on ceasefire, all heavy equipment that should not be in the security zone must be withdrawn. We support efforts in various formats that could help start and continue the process of disengaging sides. Because this is a serious security risk. As for the UN peacekeeping operation, the issue was raised, but not discussed, because the NRC is not the forum where this topic should be discussed. Our proposals have been submitted at the UN Security Council, where consultations will be held on this issue.

Zamir Kabulov: NATO can’t be successful in Afghanistan without an honest and constructive engagement with such regional powers as Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran, as well as other important regional players - Central Asian states and India.

We still have differences in our assessments of the situation in Afghanistan. As it seems, our NATO colleagues prefer to see the situation in more rosy colors. We are not pessimists or optimists in Russia, and we do not see reasons for optimism, we are just realists. For us this is not an academic issue. The situation in Afghanistan is directly related to the security interests of the Russian Federation and our allies in the region.

No evidence of Russia’s support to Taliban, except for words, was presented. We raised the issue of mysterious helicopters without identification marks which are engaged in the transfer of militants, weapons and ammunition for ISIL.

Any increase in NATO troops, be it American or from NATO countries, will not lead to the solution of the Afghan problem. Life has proved this.

I assess the new US strategy (for South Asia) skeptically. Honestly, we were trying to find new elements in this strategy, but so far we have not succeeded. We see negative aspects of this strategy. There are two important elements: focus on Pakistan. The goal is to force Pakistan to close the so-called "safe heavens" for the Taliban. And secondly, the military pressure on the Taliban to force them to engage in a political dialogue.

Since Russia advocates for the establishment of a constructive, inclusive regional approach to the Afghan settlement, we believe that an attempt to antagonize strong regional players, such as Iran and now Pakistan – and these are two key countries on which the future of war or peace in Afghanistan depends to a great extent – such attempts would be counterproductive, as well as attempts to derail efforts, including by Russia, to establish a constructive regional dialogue on the Afghan settlement, to which Pakistanis, as they always say, are ready.

 The video recording of the press conference is available here: