Address by Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, NATO Deputy Secretary General

to participants in a role play on the NATO-Russia Council, Moscow State Linguistic University, 17 April

  • 17 Apr. 2012
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  • Last updated 23-Apr-2012 11:04

I am pleased to join, via video link, guests and participants in a role play “International Model of NATO-Russia Council 2012”.

I wish to thank Madam Rector Khaleeva and her deputy Mr Sukharov for offering the Moscow State Linguistic University as a venue for this event, organised with support of the NATO Office of Information in Moscow. I would also like to greet representatives of Russian ministries, parliamentarians, academics, Allied diplomats and officials attending this event;

But the stars of this project are the students themselves. I understand that you have worked hard preparing yourselves to participate in role playing exercises, mastering many facts about the functioning of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) and the positions of all 29 countries;

As someone who was involved with events that led to the creation of the NATO-Russia Council, first as the US Permanent Representative to NATO and then as my country’s ambassador to Russia I want to share a few thoughts with you before the start of your exercise;

Partnership between NATO and Russia is a serious and important business. Following a rather difficult period, we have established a new dynamic in our relations. As you know at the 2010 Lisbon summit NRC members agreed to raise our level of ambition: we are now striving towards turning our relationship into a true strategic partnership;

Political dialogue and debate between NATO and Russia are continuing at a good pace. We had a good meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov in December, and, in two days, the Foreign Ministers of the NATO-Russia Council will meet again in Brussels again for another high-level meeting, which will yield some very tangible results. Our interactions with Russian leaders are very frequent: The Secretary General recently spoke to President-Elect Putin, and has also invited Russia to participate for the first time to a meeting in Chicago of the contributors to the Afghan mission. President Putin and Secretary General Rasmussen will also meet soon after Mr. Putin’s inauguration. And I will myself travel to Moscow in two weeks’ time to attend an important conference on missile defence. I think that such close personal contacts between the leaders of the NATO-Russia Council remain very important to the common understanding of concerns and help us move closer to our joint goals.

Our regular political dialogue at an Ambassadorial level is strengthened by frequent meetings of military representatives – in particular, Chiefs of General Staffs, who will meet in Brussels next month. The NRC is supported by a number of sub committees, working groups and groups of experts from all capitals;

The list of our topics of discussion as well as actions that have been carried out is very impressive. Over the past year we have witnessed unprecedented joint exercises in search and rescue at sea, as well as exercises involving fighter planes practising a hypothetical situation involving renegade aircraft in airspaces between NATO member countries and Russia;

Just last month alone two important so-called table-top exercises took place in the framework of the NRC: one was on counter-terrorism; the other was on Theatre Missile Defence. Our scientists are continuing to work jointly on ground-breaking technology to develop a capability that can detect from a distance improvised explosive devices, This is called STANDEX project;

NATO and Russia are helping each other more and more when it comes to our shared goal of stabilizing Afghanistan. The NRC programme for training counter-narcotics experts from Afghanistan and her neighbouring states is gathering pace. In addition, Afghan ground crews take part in three-month courses in Russia in the framework of the Afghan Helicopters Trust Fund. Current transit arrangements through Russia have been so beneficial to all of us that a new, broader deal for non-lethal cargoes to and from Afghanistan is a topic of new negotiations. However, I am a bit surprised how this issue - which is based on a Russian offer and will bring tangible economic benefits to Russia, in addition to supporting stability in Afghanistan - has been continuously misrepresented in the Russian media lately.

It is a reminder of several key issues where we do not see eye to eye with each other. I believe this is normal in any relationship. However, our real policy differences over issues such as missile defence, CFE or Georgia are made more complicated by recent rhetoric and the ongoing mistrust that go with it.

The charged rhetoric coming from Russia over the past few months has unfortunately brought unnecessary negative focus on NATO, which has ultimately not helped Russian leaders to move forward with their goals vis-à-vis the Alliance – be in on missile defence or Libya.

This can partly be a result of a lingering sense of mistrust in each other’s intentions. It negatively colours Russian views of Allied operations (e.g. in Libya) or our open door policy, and in the same manner affects Allied analysis of Russian military modernization and recent deployments or its stated regional integration initiatives. And it creates a vicious circle which is fundamentally to the detriment of all.

Still, I am an optimist when it comes to prospects for the NRC. With the right dose of political goodwill, good education, and enthusiasm - which you, as a young generation, have in abundance - we can use the NATO-Russia partnership to change Euro-Atlantic security architecture for the better.

I am ready to discuss these issues with you. Who has the first question for me?