senior MP on Russia’s role in Europe, relations with US

Text of report by the website of government-owned Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta on 27 January

[Interview with Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, by Yevgeniy Shestakov; date and place not given: "Aleksey Pushkov: I Am Not an Advocate of Drastic Measures. Russia and Europe Should Play by a Single Set of Rules"]

If Russia adopts the decision to give financial aid to Europe, this step could be accompanied by a certain package of wishes with regard to future economic relations between our country and Brussels. Rossiyskaya Gazeta talked to Aleksey Pushkov, the new chairman of the State Duma International Committee, about whether Russia should help the EU, what the prospects are for relations between Moscow and Washington, and how to organize dialogue with international organizations in which our country is constantly criticized.

[Shestakov] In a situation where the EU countries are experiencing rather serious economic problems, how far, in your view, is Russia’s position on granting them financial aid through the IMF system justified? After all, it is no secret that in a number of cases Europe is not only our trading partner but also our economic rival.

[Pushkov] As I understand it, this aid has not begun in practice. This is a scenario that is being examined as a possibility. I know Europe is appealing for help to China and other developing economies that are currently displaying much higher growth rates than the European countries. Our Western friends have this method – when they are providing so-called assistance to Russia they hedge it about with a whole string of financial, economic, and sometimes also political conditions. This was very noticeable when Boris Yeltsin’s government of reformers took loans from the IMF. And it organized Russia’s foreign policy in line with the wishes of those countries that played and continue to play the main role in the IMF. But when they are asking Russia for support, as I understand it, our setting conditions of any kind is not envisaged.

They are beginning to try to convince Russia that Russia itself will suffer from Europe’s crisis because Europe is a major trading partner for us. This argument has a kind of logic. But in that case let us play by a single set of rules. If Russia provides financial support to Europe we would like to be confident that this will not only benefit the Europeans and the world economy. We would like to be inspired by the idea that it would also benefit Russia itself. It is possible that we too will come up against a second wave of crisis, and therefore it would certainly be incautious actively to part with financial resources today.

It seems to me that if Russia does after all decide to provide aid to Europe it could accompany its decision with a certain package of wishes that would concern our economic relations with Europe and the potential for investing Russian capital in various sectors of the European economy. Or it could concern, say, the advancement of major projects onto European markets where we sometimes encounter resistance. It seems to me that in the case of this aid Russia could insist on a kind of informal most-favoured-nation status in its economic contacts with Europe. In my view this line would be absolutely justified and absolutely logical from the viewpoint of European rationalism and the Europeans’ desire to ensure their own advantage in all circumstances. If we formulate it in this way, we will be playing by European rules.

[Shestakov] Tell me, how would you assess the prospects for a continued "reset" in relations with the United States? How justified are the apocalyptic predictions that with the Republicans’ possible coming to the White House a new Cold War will begin in relations between Moscow and Washington?

[Pushkov] First, as of today the prospects of the Republicans’ coming to power are not very high. The candidates who are participating in the presidential race do not look very convincing. The well-known political expert Zbigniew Brzezinski, in an interview for the Financial Times, even stated that the Republican candidates are constantly displaying their ignorance. The Republicans today, as he put it, "are a disgrace." At the same time we are living in a very unstable world. And a victory for Barack Obama, which looks perfectly likely today, could be jeopardized by a whole string of factors that Obama would not be able to control. The Republicans could secure a victory not because they are strong but because at the moment of the elections Obama is weak. That is also possible.

As for the programme declared by the Republicans, the outlook that they are propagandizing, all of this prompts serious misgivings. Obama came to the White House with a thesis on the need for multifaceted diplomacy. The Republicans want to return to George Bush’s foreign policy creed, although nobody is referring openly to Bush. By virtue of his low popularity today George Bush, for the Republicans, is the "leper in a white robe" whom everyone avoids. The Republican candidates all agree in turning away from him so that the voters should not think they have anything in common with this "spectre." But at the same time they put forward theses that would delight George Bush. When Mitt Romney says: "America should rule the world, otherwise others will do it for us," one hears the voice of George Bush Junior. It is the same line, the same thrust, the same lack of understanding that the world has changed greatly and America can no longer behave as if it was living in a unipolar world where everything is within its powers.

America itself has grown markedly weaker while other countries have grown much stronger. The sum of global problems is such that America is not capable of dealing with them on its own. But the Republicans either do not understand this or are deliberately playing on the "jingoistic" sentiments of the Republican electorate and hoping to get into the White House on the basis of these sentiments. Therefore the Republican prospect seems to me to be rather gloomy, including with regard to Russian-American relations.

At the same time, since the elections are not until November, we still have to live through more than six months with the present administration. But I do not think we can talk about any serious prospects for the reset. The United States is not displaying any decide to take account of Russia’s concern on the question of the missile defence system – this topic has turned into a bone of contention between Moscow and Washington.

Although Moscow emphasizes its readiness for talks, Washington has already replied that Russia’s position will not have any effect on the plans already drawn up for siting American missile defences in Europe.

The situation is not improved by the US desire to influence domestic political processes in Russia. This refers to the policy that the new US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul described as a policy of "dual participation." On the one hand the American ambassador declares that he will seek to smooth out relations with the Russian state in order to revive the "reset," and on the other hand, he intends to "conduct dialogue with the public." However, this dialogue is taking the form of support for the opposition and first and foremost its radical part. This policy, in my view, is not compatible with the restoration of relations of trust. I would like to hope that Washington is aware of that.

[Shestakov] Do you think Russia should raise the question of reducing the funding of various kinds of international organizations that occupy an unobjective position, in Moscow’s view? Such as, for instance, the OSCE or PACE, which are often critical of Russia.

[Pushkov] I am not an advocate of drastic measures with regard to international organizations. I must say that when the United States, under George Bush Junior, started pursuing a persistent campaign against the United Nations Organization it was the United States itself that lost by this. But in the end the United States returned to the United Nations. For the Russian Federation the right position will be cooperation with international organizations, including those that give us a lot of unpleasant moments. After all, we ourselves declare that we want to live in a more democratic, freer society. A PACE delegation came to Moscow recently. We met with members of this delegation. We tried to explain to them the processes that are taking place in Russia. We told them the origin of the strong centralization that became established here in the 2000s and was linked to the danger of the country’s disintegration and separatism in the North Caucasus. And that now we are gradually going to modernize this centralization model and turn it in a more democratic direction. We said that the country has passed the dangerous stage where it could simply have broken into pieces and we are now entering on a new stage in which both the authorities and the population believe that our political system should become more democratic. I believe this message was heard. And I formed the impression that although in PACE there will still, of course, be criticism of us, it will not be criticism directed towards direct confrontation. Within the framework of this criticism, it seems to me, we can perfectly well cooperate. Since we joined the Council of Europe in 1996, since we declared that we adhere to a certain package of values, we should follow the path of advancing towards these values. We cannot prohibit our foreign partners and sometimes our enemies from saying what they consider necessary. But we too should not be afraid to reply and, when necessary, put them right. We should not be afraid to say what we consider necessary about their behaviour, their activities, and whether they are complying with their own principles. After all, it is not uncommon that under cover of their democratic principles a very unseemly policy is pursued, as was the case only recently in Libya. [Interview ends]

Rossiyskaya Gazeta Fact Sheet

Aleksandr Konstantinovich Pushkov is chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, author and presenter of the analysis programme Postscriptum (Centre TV), professor at MGIMO [Moscow State Institute of International Relations], member of the Russian Federation President’s Council for the Development of the Civil Society and Human Rights, permanent expert to the World Economic Forum in Davos, and author of a number of books on Russia’s foreign policy.

Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta website, Moscow, in Russian 27 Jan 12

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