How, if at all, has your perception of NATO changed since you became the first Russian ambassador to be accredited exclusively to the Alliance?
Before I was appointed to this post, I had never had direct dealings with NATO. That said, the Alliance was a factor that we had to take into account in the Russian Border Service, where I served. Indeed, at one time, the Alliance was the source of a few problems. But times have changed and with them our attitude to NATO. I should point out that the changes that have taken place are part of a two-way process, and we should hope and trust that this process will continue to evolve to our mutual benefit. Before I left for Brussels, Russian President Vladimir Putin asked to see me. On that occasion, he set me a number of tasks in recognition of the fact that NATO is now a serious and important organisation with a visible role to play in international affairs, with which Russia needs to have effective working relations. These instructions were in keeping with my own vision of the Alliance and have helped me prepare for the responsibilities facing me as head of the Russian Mission to the Alliance.
To what extent do Russians today still view NATO in terms of Cold War stereotypes and how might such views be overcome?
I don't think we should still be talking of Cold War stereotypes and the need to overcome them. The days of confrontation are past and Russians no longer associate NATO with the enemy. Quite the reverse. In recent years, people have come to understand that the common threats and challenges of the modern world call for ever-closer cooperation. Moreover, our cooperation within the international coalition against terrorism has clearly shown how effectively Russia can combine forces with Alliance member states in the face of a common threat.
There are, nevertheless, aspects of our relations with the Alliance that cause us concern, including, first and foremost, NATO's eastward expansion. Here, we believe that Russia's legitimate security interests must be taken into account. We realise that the seven states invited to join NATO will not increase the Alliance's overall military capabilities by much. But in terms of infrastructure and geography, the potential for NATO deployments is increasing. Moreover, NATO membership for the Baltic countries, which border Russia, brings with it a host of unresolved issues that directly affect our interests. At present, for example, there are no force-deployment limitations in the Baltic Republics under the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. In effect, this means that this territory could become an "arms control-free zone". I think that the way Russians view NATO will largely depend on how this issue is resolved.
large is Russia's mission to NATO and how is it structured?
There are currently 13 diplomats working at the Russian Mission to NATO, and 10 specialists in the military section. Another four or five diplomats will join us by the end of the year and staffing levels may be increased as the workload grows. At present, we have certain problems concerning the organisation of the Mission's work, but they are of a practical nature and I am sure that they will be resolved in the near future.
What do you hope to achieve as Russia's ambassador to NATO?
First and foremost, I see my task as ensuring that projects launched in the first year of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) are successfully implemented. To this end, we have already prepared the necessary groundwork and organisational and financial issues are being worked out. The "twenty" are in the mood to get down to work and this makes me sure that we shall succeed. I would rather not make predictions about the longer-term future. But I hope that, given the positive way our relations with the Alliance are evolving, we will be able to meet the task set by our respective leaders at the Rome Summit, namely to make the NRC an effective means of responding to common security challenges. I believe that one of the main tasks is to raise confidence on both sides to such a level that the rapprochement and cooperation process will become irreversible.
In what areas do you see the greatest prospects for effective cooperation between NATO and Russia?
The main areas of NATO-Russia cooperation are well known and were set out by our leaders in Rome. Every one is a priority for us and solid achievements have already been made in all of them. We have created a good basis for responding jointly to crises; dialogue on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is progressing; and cooperation in civil-emergency planning is expanding. A number of specific military projects are also underway, in particular in the areas of search and rescue at sea, military reform and air traffic control. And theatre missile defence is proving a promising area for cooperation. We are convinced that by further enhancing NATO-Russia cooperation across the entire range of areas set out in the Rome Declaration - precisely what the "twenty" desire — we will be able to make a major contribution to the evolution of a new security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic area. Moreover, I am sure that the NRC will be one of the leading elements of such an architecture.
The threat posed by WMD proliferation and international terrorism has contributed to the NATO-Russia rapprochement of recent years. How can NATO and Russia work together to meet these challenges?
The realisation that terrorism and WMD proliferation are a threat to everyone, and that we have to fight these threats together, has certainly helped to bring NATO and Russia together. It is no accident that these matters appear as specific topics in both the Rome Declaration and the NRC work plans. The NRC is now working on joint assessments of various types of terrorist threat, and there is an ongoing exchange of experience on, inter alia, the role of the military in combating terrorism. This is serious work with real returns and we intend to keep it up. Overall, our task is to take anti-terrorist cooperation to the level of a strategic partnership throughout the Euro-Atlantic area.
As far as WMD proliferation is concerned, we are continuing to implement the 2003 NRC Work Plan. In this way, we are drawing up a document reflecting our common view of global trends in the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery and the reasons behind the development and acquisition of WMD technology and materials. That said, the NRC is not the only forum dealing with the threat posed by terrorism and WMD proliferation in which NATO and Russia participate. There are a number of other institutions and regimes tackling these issues. I, nevertheless, believe that the NRC can play an increasingly important role in this area since it is seeking to standardise practical approaches and the effectiveness of international efforts will depend directly on how well this works. This is the scope of our joint work at this stage. In future, these jointly developed approaches should enable us to get down to joint action. Time will tell what form this will take.
Where are the priorities for defence reform in Russia and can you see a role for NATO in the process?
The priorities for the current phase of defence reform were clearly defined in President Putin's annual address to the Federal Assembly on 16 May 2003. They mainly consist of "major re-armament, improving the recruitment system, and improving the very structure of the Armed Forces". Priorities also include improving the social security system for military personnel, as well as their social status and the prestige attached to military service. For a country like Russia, given the size of its territory, military reform is an extremely complex and multifaceted business, particularly at a time of socio-economic transition.
Anyone who thinks that the military organisation of the state can be reformed simply by reducing personnel numbers, or leaving the job entirely to the military, is making a big mistake. In practice, since the mid-1990s, a raft of economic, socio-political and military measures has been introduced in respect of military development with the aim of radically transforming the country's military organisation.
Given the importance and urgency of this issue, the NRC has placed it among the highest priorities of NATO-Russia cooperation. There are, however, no universal solutions to the problem of rationalising the structure of a military organisation and ensuring that armed forces have a solid material and technical base, when resources are limited. Although every country is unique and the experience of other countries should not be copied in an area as sensitive as military security, we are prepared both to study carefully the approaches of other NRC members and to share our own experience of different aspects of military development.
We think that the NRC Ad Hoc Working Group on Defence Reform, which was set up at the end of 2002, is doing a good job of coordinating cooperation in this area. This year's cooperation programme is being implemented strictly according to schedule. The expert working groups on manning in the armed forces and on macroeconomic and social aspects of military reform were highly praised by those who took part. And two Russian military researchers began working at the NATO Defense College in Rome in September.
That said, when we come to draw up our plans for next year, I think we should lay special emphasis on practical cooperation. Seminars, conferences and exchange visits are well and good, but will only deliver results in the future. For this reason, we attach special significance to projects like retraining discharged military personnel to equip them with civilian skills and destroying surplus stockpiles of Russian anti-personnel mines. I believe it is on the basis of these projects, as well as new projects of a "hands-on" nature, that NATO's role in developing cooperation on military reform will be judged.
Russia was the largest non-NATO contributor to the Alliance's Balkan peacekeeping operations until it withdrew forces this summer. What lessons has Russia drawn from the experience of working together with NATO forces in the Balkans and when will Russian soldiers serve alongside their Alliance peers again?
At present, Russian experts are working with their
NATO peers to prepare a joint assessment of the experience of peacekeeping
operations in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the southern Serbian
province of Kosovo. I think that this exercise will result in a substantial
document reflecting our experience to date, and, most importantly, containing
recommendations on how NATO-Russia peacekeeping cooperation can be made
more efficient and effective in the future. I don't wish to pre-empt
the findings of the experts' assessment. However, I can already say that when our peacekeepers have clear tasking and are working under a UN Security Council mandate, they are perfectly capable of operating effectively together in the most difficult conditions. Russian soldiers and commanders, who worked shoulder to shoulder with their NATO colleagues, have fond memories of the spirit of camaraderie and cooperation, which frequently provided a source of support during the difficult days of the Balkan operations.
As for possible future joint operations, there are no specific plans as yet. That said, we are already preparing the groundwork for future cooperation in peacekeeping on the basis of equal partners. At the political-legal level, the NRC Working Group on Peacekeeping has prepared a joint document entitled Political aspects of the generic concept of NATO-Russia joint peacekeeping operations which is now to be tested in so-called "procedural exercises". At the military level, a programme for improving interoperability between NATO and Russian peacekeeping units has been approved and is being implemented. In the event of a political decision to launch a joint operation — which, in Russia's case, would have to be taken by the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly — I am sure that our peacekeepers would be ready to carry out their tasks with distinction.
NATO has taken responsibility for peacekeeping in and around Kabul in Afghanistan and has helped Poland put together a force to provide security in part of Iraq. Does Russia see a future role for itself in either of these missions and would Russia in principle be prepared to participate in other NATO-led operations beyond the Euro-Atlantic area?
Problems such as Afghanistan and Iraq require the input of the entire international community. Various international mechanisms and institutions are involved here, including NATO. We take the view that the United Nations should play the lead role in these affairs, and that, under such circumstances, Russia, as a permanent Security Council member, would not remain on the sidelines. Concerning the issue of whether Russia is prepared in principle to conduct joint operations with NATO, even outside the Alliance's traditional area of responsibility, we cannot rule out this possibility. Our primary concern here would be to coordinate political approaches to a particular situation requiring joint action and to ensure that such action has a proper, international legal basis.
NATO has enlarged to bring in both former members of the Warsaw Pact and former Soviet republics and is forging ever-deeper relations with former Soviet republics in both the Caucasus and Central Asia. How does Russia look on these developments and the desire of more former Soviet republics to become Alliance members?
We do not consider NATO's further enlargement to
be a cause for celebration. As things stand, we could
be facing new military bases, military units and other
infrastructure of a powerful
military alliance appearing on our borders. In my opinion,
this approach to security is an echo of the past, a
relic of the Cold War. That
said, every sovereign state is entitled to decide for
itself how it wishes to ensure its own security, including
by joining various international
alliances and organisations. Nevertheless, we cannot
welcome this turn of events. We favour more universal
security mechanisms for the Euro-Atlantic
area — such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe.
What are the chances that one day Russia will become a member of NATO?
This question has been answered a number of times.
President Putin has said that Russia has no aspirations
to join NATO. I do not think that the issue of membership
is especially relevant. What is more
important is the way in which relations between nations,
or alliances of nations, are built, and on what basis;
the aims they pursue in
their cooperation; and the benefit this cooperation
brings to others. We believe that NATO-Russia relations
form a natural part of Europe's
evolving security architecture and that the NRC is
becoming a pillar of international relations. NATO
and Russia have taken on a serious
commitment for the future of Europe. And as far as
this Mission is concerned, it makes no difference whether
we join the Alliance or
cooperate on a different basis.