An interview with Dmitri Rogozin, Russian envoy at NATO

Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s permanent envoy at NATO, explains why relations with Russia are more important for NATO than offering Membership Action Plan status to Ukraine and Georgia. Rogozin: “No one in NATO is happy about the actual prospect of Ukraine and Georgia becoming members.”

Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s permanent envoy at NATO, explains why relations with Russia are more important for NATO than offering Membership Action Plan (MAP) status to Ukraine and Georgia.

Question: Do you expect the Brussels meeting to reactivate the Russia-NATO Council?

Dmitri Rogozin: We don’t expect anything good from NATO. (laughter) But if they make a compromise decision – to the effect that yes, Russia behaved badly, but international security requires cooperation – then there might be some prospects. And they would build a bridge for an informal meeting of the Russia-NATO Council at the ambassador level, which could be held by the end of the year. In general, we are expecting some reconciliation steps from them.

Question: But Russia’s military envoy to NATO left Moscow for Brussels on December 2 – does that mean Russia is confident about the Russia-NATO Council being reactivated?

Dmitri Rogozin: It’s simply that we have our own plans for relations with NATO, including relations with some particular NATO members. General Maslov did indeed fly out of Moscow, and his presence is essential for solving a number of problems common to Russia and NATO.

We believe that the Russia-NATO Council ought to be more effective. The EU and NATO have 21 member states – and they behave differently. For example, the same country might be blocking Russia-NATO Council reactivation in its capacity as a NATO member, while speaking in favor of developing cooperation with Russia as a European Union member. We still cannot understand this kind of hypocrisy.

But we do have some common problems. The pirates in Somalia, for example. And if we want to ensure security for our civilian ships, we need to cooperate with the EU and NATO. And the actions of our military forces in this area should be coordinated, of course. Another important common problem is Afghanistan. This is an extremely important project for NATO. But if they are defeated there, it would be a problem for us as well. So we are prepared to cooperate. Besides, this is also a commercial matter – we are being paid for it. In other words, NATO is very much interested in a number of joint operations with Russia. These operations are vitally important for NATO.

Question: Do you mean Russia-Afghanistan transit?

Dmitri Rogozin: Of course – they have a great many problems without transit to Afghanistan via Russia. They are no longer satisfied with current routes via Pakistan, since it’s impossible to ensure security for cargo there. So NATO is very interested in northern transit – a route across Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. Actually, the finalized texts on this question were coordinated with Astana and Tashkent recently, then delivered to Brussels. NATO reached agreement with Moscow back in April at the Bucharest meeting, but it has taken them six months to negotiate with Tashkent and Astana. I was informed yesterday by my Collective Security Treaty Organization colleagues that the last differences have been resolved. So NATO may be able to activate a northern route from the start of 2009.

Question: Lemar TV in Afghanistan recently reported that due to Russia’s unpredictability, Washington is planning a third transit route option – via the Georgian port of Poti, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan – that is, bypassing Russia. So Russia stands to lose an important argument in its dialogue with NATO.

Dmitri Rogozin: It could be done, of course, but it would be very expensive. They might as well make peace with Tehran. No, of course not – that’s impossible. But why create a problem out of nothing? There’s no need to be rude. Actually, we have a separate cargo transit agreement with Germany and France, even though they are NATO members. But these countries are very close to us, as the August crisis showed. The French President showed personal courage, visiting Moscow despite the pressure on Paris from certain quarters.

Question: Does this separate agreement allow Germany and France to use Russian airspace for military transit?

Dmitri Rogozin: Yes, we permit them to fly their military contingents through our air corridor. But other countries are not allowed to do this.

Question: In the past few days there has been much talk of Georgia and Ukraine being offered a plan that replaces MAP and speeds up NATO accession procedures for these countries. Do you think this will happen?

Dmitri Rogozin: This is an American idea. But no one in NATO is happy about the actual prospect of Ukraine and Georgia becoming members. They say: why is America lobbying so hard for Georgia and Ukraine, rather than for Mexico, for example? Moreover, the Europeans can see what is happening to the Ukrainian economy: enterprises will soon start closing down, and the country will go bankrupt. Europe can’t afford to support Ukraine. And they won’t invite these bankrupt, scandal-plagued regimes to join NATO. And it doesn’t make sense for Europe to follow the lead of Condoleezza Rice, who has one foot in Stanford University – especially when an important partnership with Russia is at stake.

Question: So you believe that NATO considers relations with Russia more important than the integration of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO?

Dmitri Rogozin: Of course. Besides, they take the view that Ukraine and Georgia will still be there later, but the questions with Russia need to be sorted out right now. We are dealing with rational, practical people. Of course, they can’t let themselves be seen to give way under pressure from Moscow, so they will make some sort of nice statements – giving some promises to Ukraine and Georgia, noting their Atlantic future, perhaps – but no radical decisions will be made.