NATO Deputy Secretary General Talks about Moscow Visit
Deputy Secretary General, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow speaking at NATO headquarters.
NATO Deputy Secretary General, Ambassador Vershbow spoke to www.nato-russia-council.info today following a busy visit to Russia. Ambassador Vershbow was in Moscow for meetings with his Russian counterparts about developing cooperation between NATO and Russia through the NATO-Russia Council. During his trip he also spoke to the media for a number of interviews and attended a reunion of Russian and U.S. Ambassadors.
www.nato-russia-council.info: It sounds like you had an extremely busy trip.
Ambassador Vershbow: "I had a very interesting trip to Moscow, both for the conference of former Russian and American ambassadors, which was an opportunity to see some old colleagues, and for my official bilateral meetings with Russian officials, which were the most important part of the trip. I also had opportunities to interact with the Russian civil society and media on key issues in NATO-Russia relations.
I was also happy to have the chance to be in Moscow again and do some cultural activities, including to hear the virtuoso guitarist Victor Zinchuk at the Union of Composers Club. With two of my fellow former Ambassadors I was able to see the all-time greatest Russian saxophonist, Igor Butman, at his club, with the added bonus that I was able to sit in on the drums on a blues number with Butman, the Daniel Kramer trio, and the up and coming American jazz singer Debbie Davis. During my time as Ambassador to Moscow I was a regular at Butman’s club, and he and his band The Big Bend played many events at Spaso House.
The conference of Ambassadors was a very informal get together; we had a good core of expertise to talk about some of the lessons of previous periods, and there was agreement that both governments need to build stronger foundations of cooperation."
NRC.info: You met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Prime Minister’s office and the President’s Office. Among other things, you discussed how to deepen cooperation in Afghanistan.Currently which areas of cooperation on Afghanistan do you see as being the most fruitful, and what impact are they having on the security situation in Afghanistan?
Ambassador Vershbow: "My Russian interlocutors agreed that Afghanistan is one of the most productive areas of cooperation right now. We reviewed the Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), Russia’s assistance in the transit of materiel to ISAF forces in Afghanistan, and the role Russia can play in the redeployment out of Afghanistan. There was also agreement that our counter-narcotics training efforts have been successful, and could be expanded. There was clear recognition that there is a common interest in NATO’s success in Afghanistan, and in continuing to support stability in the region post-2014. The talks were useful in giving more impetus to additional efforts to expand this area of cooperation.
We are already in the process of moving to the second phase of the HMTF, and with the Afghan Air Force centring a lot of its future capability on Russian helicopter technology, there should be opportunities to continue this programme for several years into the future. There may be other possibilities beyond helicopters where Russia could support Afghanistan’s ability to defend itself and prevent a resurgence of the Taliban."
NRC.info: What potential new areas of cooperation on Afghanistan could NATO-Russia Council develop?
Ambassador Vershbow: "As we look to the post-2014 period Afghanistan is going to have many different needs that the international community will have to address. Some of them will be in the security field, but there may be additional areas relating to securing the borders, fighting corruption, or dealing with other trans-national crime, where NATO-Russia cooperation can be among the catalysts for greater regional cooperation. The focus may shift away from the security field, but NATO-Russia Council countries could provide a real impetus that could bring the Central Asian countries, Pakistan, India and China into new initiatives to support Afghan sovereignty and economic development."
NRC.info: How do you envisage developing cooperation in these areas?
Ambassador Vershbow: "The counter-narcotics training project has provided a model for future cooperative projects. It has already gone beyond just training Afghans, to providing capacity building in Central Asia and Pakistan. There is an opportunity to be even more inclusive, given that the Central Asian neighbours of Afghanistan as well as Pakistan have an even more direct stake in avoiding any backsliding after 2014."
NRC.info: What impact are NATO-Russia Council projects having on security on the ground in Afghanistan?
Ambassador Vershbow: "The support for Afghanistan’s helicopter capabilities has certainly been part of the basis for the increasing effectiveness of the Afghan Security Forces as a whole. They provide both essential mobility and some counter-insurgency capabilities, which are already now being tested in battle, as we see Afghanistan taking the lead for more than 80% of the operations. The NRC Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund has already trained and provided certification to 20% of the technicians of the Afghan Air Force and it will likely double its outreach in the next year. The more than 2500 personnel trained to fight narcotics, both in Afghanistan and the neighbouring states, have also made a significant impact, with NRC trainees involved in some of the biggest regional seizures of heroin. No one could underestimate the challenge in stopping the flow of narcotics out of Afghanistan, which is a threat to Russia and to Europe as well. We have made a good start but there is plenty of scope for expanding these efforts."
NRC.info: We often talk about Afghanistan, because it is a strong area of cooperation at the moment for the NRC. People also focus a lot on Missile Defence, but this is an area of slow progress, meanwhile there is a lot of work being done and progress made in other areas.How do you see NATO-Russia cooperation developing on MD from this point?
Ambassador Vershbow: "Missile defence was the subject on which I spent the most time in my meetings, both because it is an area where we have extraordinary opportunities for taking our cooperation to a much higher level, but where we also have had the greatest difficulties – going back many years – because of differences in our positions. With the recent changes to the U.S. Missile Defence programme announced by Secretary of Defence Hagel, a few weeks ago, my message was that this should be the trigger for more intensified discussions among the experts and at political levels as well. The changes have removed any doubt that there was any risk for the Russian strategic deterrent forces from the U.S. and NATO missile defence plans in Europe. There are still many questions on the Russians’ part, but changes to the programme may at least open the way for more serious discussions on how to put together a cooperative missile defence architecture. The U.S. announcement has removed one of the major obstacles to cooperation."
NRC.info: Which other areas of NRC cooperation do you see as important, currently and to develop for the future?
Ambassador Vershbow: "We have some very important initiatives already underway in the field of counter-terrorism – in particular, the STANDEX initiative, which will have an actual demonstration in the Paris metro in June.
The STANDEX technology can detect tiny traces of explosives from a distance without actually having to touch suspects; it has a vast array of uses in both the public and private sectors, in places like the Metro, airports, train stations or other public places. The anniversary of the tragic 2010 terrorist attacks on the Moscow metro, which was solemnly commemorated during my visit, was an important reminder that we certainly have a shared interest in developing ways to provide early warning of these kinds of attacks, and to give ourselves a chance to save lives. We can continue to develop this technology, as well as our counter-terrorism cooperation more broadly, with follow-on projects.
A possible new area of cooperation to explore would draw on NATO’s expertise in the demilitarisation of excess munitions in Russia. Because of their age and degradation, excess munitions are posing a safety and environmental hazard to the population and there is no doubt that we can cooperate in this area successfully and to our mutual benefit.
We also talked about counter-piracy off the coast of Somalia. We are not at the moment operating under a common command, but, nevertheless, we are collaborating closely. We have developed ways for our ships to communicate directly and coordinate their operations.
We also have good political consultations on a range of subjects including arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. I made the case that we could broaden our political dialogue to include some of the more difficult regional challenges around the world. We may not be tackling them through the NRC, but it is a good forum in which to better understand each other’s positions and maybe help our diplomats in other parts of the world to find a common approach"
Links to Ambassador Vershbow's other interviews with the Russian Media during his visit:
Interview with Kommersant in Russian
Interview with Kommersant Translated into English
Interview with Interfax in Russian
Interview with Ekho Moskvy in Russian