What Do You Dream of, Cruiser Monterey?

Text of report by the website of government-owned Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta on 11 July

[Interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by Vladislav Vorobyev; date and place not given: "What Do You Dream of, Cruiser Monterey? Russian Foreign Minister Names the Problems for Which the West Should Not Look for Simple Solutions" – first paragraph is Rossiyskaya Gazeta introduction]

On Monday [11 July] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov leaves on a visit to Washington. Beforehand, in conversation with Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s correspondent, Russia’s number one diplomat spoke about provocation on the part of the United States, about the WikiLeaks website, about putting a good face on things, about the dangers for Russia, and about "simple" solutions.

[Vorobyev] In an interview for Rossiyskaya Gazeta a week ago US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "Sergey and I are short of time." Is she being disingenuous?

[Lavrov] No, to be honest. I would agree with her. First and foremost because our relations with Barack Obama’s administration have become much richer. The presidential commission is working actively. It has 20 working groups. And we submit reports to the presidents approximately once every six months. At the very least, ahead of each of their meetings. Whether it be in America, in Russia, or on the fringes of some multilateral forum.

When my counterpart and I are coordinating the report on the work of the presidential commission, we want, of course, to go into the activity of each working group and see where something requires political impetus. As foreign ministers we do not, of course, interfere in the professional work of our nuclear experts, our cultural, humanitarian, economic, or transportation departments, those who are combating drugs, and so forth. But if a particular working group does not produce practical results in the shape of documents and accords, then of course we wish to give political impetus to their work.

And by virtue of the fact that even during official visits the time for talks is limited, of course there is not enough time to go into absolutely everything. So in this sense many hours of contact would do no harm, but unfortunately that is an unaffordable luxury, in view of the fact that both the US secretary of state and the foreign minister of the Russian Federation have other commitments too.

After all, apart from the presidential commission, we have many other topics that require attention and careful discussion with a view to formulating the appropriate positions. There is missile defence, there are the numerous conflicts and crisis situations on which we cooperate: Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East settlement, Iran’s nuclear programmes, the nuclear problem in the Korean peninsula. And now there is also the situation in northern Africa.

We exchange opinions on all of this and agree to look for solutions. But if there was more time than it would certainly be slightly easier. Although on a whole string of issues there are disagreements that require coordination on the part of the experts. So that is life. We have pretty tight schedules. But we will try to make the utmost use of the time allocated.

[Vorobyev] Will the American missile defence system be a key issue during your visit to Washington?

[Lavrov] To a certain extent, yes. Because on the majority of the other issues there is no sign of serious, insuperable obstacles. Work is under way both on an agreement on adoption and on the easing of the visa regime. This also applies to the implementation of the START Treaty. Work has begun. It has entered the practical phase. Now we are simply evaluating how this work is going.

We also have ideas that are already being implemented through our economic departments and at the corporate level to increase the innovation and modernization component of our cooperation. The presidents personally also devote attention to these issues.

Today missile defence is undoubtedly emerging as a key topic from the viewpoint of strategic stability. Yes, there was the Cold War, there was the Warsaw Pact that confronted NATO. Russian-US relations both in the era of confrontation and in the era of detente were always based on our common understanding that strategic military-political stability depends on our two states. This was the core o f Russian-American relations. Talks on reducing nuclear arsenals, conventional arms control, and much else have to do with so-called strict security.

Nowadays it would be unfair to restrict all Russian-American ties to this topic. Because they are much richer. I have already mentioned many spheres that were not previously present in our dialogue. Nonetheless military-political issues, global strategic stability and strategic parity, still depend, of course, on Russia and the United States. We are convinced that it is necessary not only to resolve this problem but to ensure that it ceases to be the sole agenda, that it ceases to be the element that divides us, but on the contrary, turns into a unifying process.

Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev, in putting forward the initiative on concluding a European security treaty, had in mind the need to make security indivisible in practice. You could call this a legally binding form, you could call it something else – those are details. The main thing is that indivisibility should be present in practical actions. It was proclaimed many times, back at the stage of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the formation of the new Russia. It was reconfirmed at the Lisbon NATO summit in November last year. But in practice we see, in general, a picture that does not back up this declaration.

The NATO military infrastructure in the territory of the new members, despite political assurances to the contrary, is not simply being created, it is coming closer to our borders. Missile defence, which we wanted to turn into a joint project and to agree on all its components in such a way that nobody feels threatened, is still developing along unilateral lines defined by the Americans. We are only invited to help with our resources to realize the American design. But we are far from convinced that this design is optimal.

We will of course discuss these proposals. Although let me stipulate at once that negotiation over particular texts should not be expected from Hillary Clinton and myself. There are professionals for that. This topic requires the deepest military-technical expertise. And such talks take place through the mechanism that was created for this purpose within the framework of the presidential commission. But the political significance of the missile defence situation, the significance of either a positive or negative outcome, will of course be discussed during my trip to Washington.

[Vorobyev] An off-site session of the Russia-NATO Council at the level of permanent representatives took place in Sochi on 4 July. As I understand it, each side stuck to its ground. Why do you think the alliance and the NATO secretary general personally do not want to give Russia legally binding security guarantees?

[Lavrov] Nobody planned to discuss legal guarantees or questions of the NATO missile defence system’s orientation against Russia at the meeting in Sochi. This is, after all, ambassadorial level. Political decisions are not made at that level. This is the level of expert discussions. Our partners in the Russia-NATO Council expressed an interest in holding the regular, traditional session in Sochi in the off-site format. This is not a question of setting a precedent. Because there have been such cases before.

Our president agreed to receive the members of the Russia-NATO Council. He delivered a brief message setting forth our approaches, in principle, to cooperation. Recording the many positive changes that have taken place in the past two or three years. But there is still the unequivocally key issue of clarification from the viewpoint of re-establishing the truth: whether we are strategic partners or still regard one another as opponents. If we want to be strategic partners, as was stated in Lisbon, then, for sure, any military activity undertaken by NATO on the one hand or Russia on the other should not be directed against one another.

We all understand that we live in the real world. Of course inertia exists. But issues from the viewpoint of military planning also exist. If bases spring up in Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland – that is, right next door to Russia – and these bases contain a military component that is in reality a potential, creating a risk to our military component – we are simply obliged to pay attention to this.

During the Russia-NATO Council session in Sochi, incidentally, we mentioned that thanks to WikiLeaks it emerged that at the very time of the preparations and holding of the Lisbon summit the Alliance was drawing up a plan to defend the Baltic states and Poland against attack from Russia. But only a fevered brain could imagine that such an attack was really being planned. In fact our entire military doctrine is defensive.

We have already been accused repeatedly of returning to Cold War times because, as they say, we identified NATO as a threat to Russia. We have explained repeatedly: You only need to read what is written in the military doctrine of the Russian Federation. Namely: Russia regards as a danger NATO’s desire – and this desire exists – to take upon itself the responsibility for military intervention in the most diverse regions of the world in violation of international law and contrary to UN Security Council resolutions. A second danger is also stated in the doctrine – the approach of the NATO military structure right up to our borders. Those are two very precise things.

I am convinced that the people in NATO have read this doctrine. They understand very well what the issue is. But for the purposes of external consumption the Alliance members prefer to interpret these absolutely natural concerns as some kind of stance on Russia’s part. As if we regard NATO as a threat. NATO is not a threat to us. NATO is a partner organization to us. Moreover, at the Lisbon summit it was recorded that we want to be strategic partners. Therefore accretions of this kind require, of course, that we meet quite frequently and clarify the situation. This was one reason why we supported the holding of the Russia-NATO Council session in Sochi and one reason why President Dmitriy Medvedev decided to receive the participants in this session.

Incidentally, in Sochi it was very useful for our NATO partners, and indeed for us, to brief the Council members on the measures that are being adopted to ensure the security of the Sochi Olympics. Including transport security. This is one of the areas in which we are cooperating closely with NATO.

[Vorobyev] On 12 June the Russian Foreign Ministry reacted sharply to the visit by the American antimissile cruiser Monterey to the Georgian port of Batumi. Was this a provocation on America’s part?

[Lavrov] I would agree with you that we are talking about a provocation. Clearly the Americans were invited to participate in the Sea Breeze naval exercises. Some other exercises were also taking place off the coast of Georgia. If everything happens in strict compliance with the Montreux Convention, which restricts the presence of foreign navies in the Black Sea, then this cannot provoke questions of any kind. But when, out of the large number of options enabling the Americans to take part in these exercises using any naval ship of theirs that is in the Mediterranean, they specifically choose the cruiser Monterey, which is fitted with antimissile equipment – the Aegis system, which it is already planned to incorporate in the naval component of the American missile defence system – of course this is bound to provoke questions.

Moreover, the Monterey took part in exercises in Georgian territorial waters. And we all know how the unrestrained desire to bring Mikheil Saakashvili into NATO, the peremptory decision adopted in Bucharest that Georgia will be a member of the Alliance, affected Mikheil Saakashvili’s mentality. I am convinced that everyone understands what a damaging role all this played in his adventurist decision to attack South Ossetia.

[Vorobyev] In Washington, you will take part in a session of the Middle East "Quartet" at the level of foreign ministers. What can you talk about at all, now that the "Arab Spring" has shuffled literally all the cards in the Middle East?

[Lavrov] The cards have been shuffled. That is indeed so. Those who are currently pretending that they foresaw all this, and even more, that they know what to do now, are clearly putting a good face on things. We do not attempt to claim a knowledge of all the details. We are trying to do what we currently consider most important – to calm down the situation. To that end it is necessary above all to refrain from demonizing anyone whatsoever.

You can think what you like about Al-Qadhafi. Everyone knows that there will be no place for Al-Qadhafi in the future new Libya. The G8 said so in Deauville. But to think that Al-Qadhafi represents only himself is unforgivable for a diplomat. Or for a politician. Libya is a tribal country. Al-Qadhafi represented the interests of a major, powerful tribe, but at the same time he was acceptable to the other tribes. He was able to establish some kind of system that lasted more than 40 years. It was quite stable, economically solid, socially acceptable to the people.

Of course this has to end sometime. Certainly a leader with such a long career needs to think about continuity. This is a warning to many regimes that exist one way or another in one place or another. But to expect them to remove Al-Qadhafi and hand over everything to the mercy of the opposition is naive. Therefore it is necessary, all the same, to negotiate.

But meanwhile Al-Qadhafi is who he is, namely the leader: formal or informal. He says he does not hold any posts. Nonetheless Al-Qadhafi, for many Libyans, remains the authority. Yes, we are in favour of the sides deciding on their negotiators. But to say in this context that Al-Qadhafi should not exert any influence on their position is also naive. We must not demonize the sides. One can speak out about specific individuals, but to come down wholly on the opposite side, ignoring the position of the side that is behind that individual, is the road to nowhere.

[Vorobyev] Is the same scenario prescribed for Syria by the West?

[Lavrov] It is true that we are currently observing attempts to implement the same scenario in Syria. Where the entire blame for what is happening is being laid on President Bashar al-Asad. Where all his admittedly belated promises, but promises nonetheless, for reforms, and the admittedly inadequate steps, but first steps, to fulfil those promises by lifting the state of emergency and declaring an amnesty, are not accepted and are greeted only by statements along the lines of: "Come on: Either you carry out all the reforms immediately in a day, or else you will be illegitimate." That is simplistic. And in politics there are no simple solutions.

It is noteworthy that a meeting of opposition public figures and cultural figures was held in Damascus at the end of June. It is good that this meeting was not banned. The first measure within the framework of the national dialogue announced by Al-Asad is scheduled for 10 July.

Our common task is to encourage the opposition to sit down at the negotiating table and say to Al-Asad: "You promised us constitutional reform, who will draft it?" This would be a responsible approach dictated by concern for the future of the Syrian people.

Incidentally, that is approximately how the EU, the United Nations, Russia, and the Gulf States [Cooperation] Council are acting with regard to Yemen. Together, we are encouraging the opposition and representatives of the regime to make compromises on the basis of a road map, a settlement plan. And nobody is trying to blame anyone.

Although after the mortar shelling as a result of which practically the entire leadership of Yemen suffered serious wounds it would certainly have been possible to demand in the UN Security Council that those who did this should answer to the international community.

When we see the Yemeni and Syrian processes developing in parallel, we can hardly fail to notice the double standards. They must be avoided. I hope that those who wanted to raise the Syrian issue in the UN Security Council and to follow the Libyan scenario will draw the right conclusions after all.

Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta website, Moscow, in Russian 11 Jul 11

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