An interview with Russian Representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin.

Question: What is going to become the central item on the NATO summit agenda? What matters is the Russian delegation determined to discuss with the partners?

Dmitry Rogozin: Performance in Afghanistan will be the central item on the agenda. It is common knowledge after all that the very future of the Alliance is being decided in this country nowadays.

As for Russia, it is interested in a stable and democratic Afghanistan, of course. Our cooperation with the Alliance in this sphere (in Afghanistan, that is) should be regarded from particularly this standpoint. In fact, certain Russian-NATO agreements – say, on non-military transit via Russia – may be made right at the summit in Bucharest.

As for what we would like to discuss with the partners… the list of these subjects is fairly well known. It includes Kosovo, Washington’s plans to install elements of the US national missile defense in East Europe, arms control, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And NATO’s eastward expansion, of course.

Question: What do you think is the particularly problematic issue in the Russian-NATO relations? What actions on the part of the Alliance irritate the Kremlin?

Dmitry Rogozin: We firmly believe that it is wrong and unacceptable to develop Euroatlantic security framework at the cost of security a country or countries located in the region. That’s what the discord comes down to. NATO has always been a military-political alliance and remains it. Its expansion closer and closer to the borders of Russia cannot be justified by any considerations be they security or purely political. Short-term gains may and probably will bring about a catastrophe. I do not think that either NATO or Russia want it. It is to thwart catastrophes that we established the Russian-NATO Council, a structure were we design and discuss joint efforts against common threats (terrorism, trafficking from Afghanistan, weapons of mass destruction, arms control) and deal with whatever we disagree on.

Question: What do you think of NATO peacekeepers’ performance in the Balkans? Would you say they have been operating within the framework of the UN mandate?

Dmitry Rogozin: Success or failure of the mission in the region is to be determined by peace and stability in the Balkans. Now that Kosovo declared its sovereignty, peace and stability there are out of the question. The situation there is quite tricky, and the latest events in the region (in Kosovska Mitrovica and Serbia) confirm it. NATO is not the organization that is supposed to determine Kosovo’s status. At least, that’s what NATO secretary general keeps saying. It is something to be decided within the framework of the UN and in the course of bilateral negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina. On the other hand, we cannot really say that the Alliance which is present in the region does not have any effect on the situation there. A great deal depends on it indeed. As things stand, NATO peacekeepers operate within the framework of the UN mandate – but barely. As soon as they trespass, however, Russia will immediately bring up the matter at the level of the Russian-NATO Council and UN Security Council.

Question: Do you think a shooting war between Russia and the Alliance is possible in any foreseeable future? What will it take to foment an armed conflict?

Dmitry Rogozin: Russia wants peace and security. Russia is facing some economic tasks it has to address, and addressing them in the midst of a military confrontation or another arms race will be difficult, if possible at all. Meanwhile, certain foreign countries do strive to force an arms race on Russia. I do not think that NATO is out to antagonize Russia. I repeat, Russia should respect interests of the Alliance and vice versa, and this mutual respect will make conflicts impossible.

Question: Some specialists expect that Georgia and Ukraine will be invited to join NATO at the summit in Bucharest or shortly afterwards. What will Russia do? Does the Kremlin know what to do by way of response to imminent appearance of the Alliance on the borders of Russia?

Dmitry Rogozin: I’m not so sure of it. I mean, I’m not sure that Georgia and Ukraine are about to be invited into the Alliance. Membership in NATO foments equivocal feelings in these countries themselves. Ukrainian general public is split on the subject. It is actually a minority in Ukraine that clamors for membership in NATO. In Georgia, where the authorities are so fond of making references to the referendum not all of Georgian society participated in (population of Abkhazia and South Ossetia did not participate), not everybody is prepared to follow the government into NATO. In other words, the matter comes down to a choice between membership in NATO on the one hand and territorial integrity of these countries on the other. What will prevail – voice of reason or short-term gains – remains to be seen.

As for Moscow’s reaction… it knows how to respond to NATO’s eastward expansion. Needless to say, I’m not at liberty to elaborate on the subject. I only hope that our NATO partners will spare themselves discovery of what this response may constitute.

Question: To what extent are NATO structures involved in development of the US national missile defense?

Dmitry Rogozin: The Americans develop their national missile defense despite Russia and NATO itself. They put the matter on the plane of bilateral relations with the involved countries and claim that this is how it is supposed to be. Were it not for Russia, the United States would have never even discussed the matter with its partners in NATO.

Unfortunately, the Europeans appear to be incomprehensibly indifferent. That’s the impression their official reaction to Washington’s plans leaves. Brussels apparently thinks that this is a matter of bilateral relations between the United States and Russia. Even public opinion in the countries directly involved in the project (the Czech Republic and Poland) is ignored. The subject is not discussed the way it should be discussed in media outlets, European Parliament, Council of Europe, OSCE… I’m perplexed, you know. Security of the whole continent is at stake, and this indifference is completely beyond me.

Question: What about the US offer to permit Russian officers at objects of the US national missile defense – as long as the local authorities raise no objections? Shall we accept it?

Dmitry Rogozin: What do these offers mean in the first place? Recognition on Washington’s part of validity of Russian worries and concerns. The US Administration wants to dispel these worries – or at least claims that it does. As for this offer as such, I wouldn’t call it exactly satisfactory, but it’s a beginning.

All I can say is that abandonment of the plans to develop US national missile defense in East Europe will be a simple and cheap solution to the problem.

Question: Georgia’s step-by-step integration into NATO upsets Russia too. Will eventually inevitable recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by the Kremlin and their integration into Russia facilitate this process?

Dmitry Rogozin: You are correct. Russia cannot help being disturbed by security of its southwestern borders. Reckless and thoughtless policy of the government in Tbilisi may rekindle the fire of the latent conflicts. (I can only say I hope that this is not what NATO wants because Russia certainly does not want it.) All these attempts to drag the Alliance into the tangle of Georgia’s internal problems is folly, of course. Permission to Georgia to join NATO at this point will mean Georgian membership in the Alliance without Abkhazia and South Ossetia where this whole idea serves as an additional irritant. In fact, this turn of events will only facilitate alienation and separation of these regions from Georgia.