Interview with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza

Russia has proposed holding an OSCE summit next year with the aim of discussing President Dmitri Medvedev’s proposal for a new European security architecture, but last week’s OSCE meeting rejected this proposal. Why?

An OSCE meeting at the level of foreign affairs ministers took place in Helsinki last week. Russia proposed holding an OSCE summit next year with the aim of discussing President Dmitri Medvedev’s proposal for a new European security architecture, but the OSCE meeting rejected this proposal. Why? We asked US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, who handles Washington’s policy in the Trans-Caucasus.

Question: Does the United States support President Medvedev’s idea of holding an OSCE summit in 2009 to discuss a draft treaty on European security?

Matthew Bryza: Not at all. Over lunch at the OSCE summit in Helsinki, the foreign ministers had an excellent discussion about Mr. Medvedev’s proposals – so let’s keep talking. Why do we need a summit straight away? Why move from the vague idea stage straight to a heads of state summit? It seems as if Russia has some other motive here. Why convene a summit before anyone has clearly formulated the idea? What are Medvedev’s proposals? All I’ve seen is some paper that talks of the need to support the principle of territorial integrity. Very interesting! And this is being said by Russia, which recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia, but without Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Question: Are you only dissatisfied with the degree to which this project has been developed, or is there something else you don’t like about it?

Matthew Bryza: In general, we’re perfectly satisfied with the current European security system. We have the OSCE, NATO, and the EU. Russia is not a member of all these alliances, of course, but it’s a dialogue partner in all of them. It’s important for us to maintain NATO and the EU, as well as Russia’s partnership with these organizations. Why should all this be changed? If you want to add something, let’s discuss it.

Question: If this system is as good as you say, why couldn’t it prevent the war in Georgia?

Matthew Bryza: Our views on the August events are clear. Georgia was provoked into the war, and this was done by Russia. Georgia made a big mistake by falling into the provocation trap. And if Russia wants to make any headway in discussing security issues, this cannot be done unless the obligations undertaken by President Medvedev are fulfilled.

Question: Hasn’t Russia fulfilled them?

Matthew Bryza: Nowhere near it! The first of the agreement’s six points is about access for humanitarian missions. Access is very limited in Abkhazia, and there’s no access at all in South Ossetia.

The fifth point is that troops should be withdrawn to the positions they held before August 6. This should apply to geographical location of units and the number of soldiers. What we’re seeing now is the reverse, and the situation in the Akhalgori district is very scary. And these are facts, not American interpretations. The American interpretation concerns the sixth point in the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement: starting international discussions. We maintain that by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia has blocked the possibility of this process in any sensible form.

Question: But what is the point of the Geneva talks, then? Why is the USA participating in them?

Matthew Bryza: A country cannot become independent just because two states in the world recognize it. None of the OSCE’s 56 members have recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, except Russia. So Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not independent states.

Question: And is Kosovo an independent state?

Matthew Bryza: Of course – after all, it has been recognized by 53 nations. As for the Geneva talks, our cooperation with Russia is going poorly there, of course. We are glad that Russia is participating in these talks, but after all, Russia assumed this obligation under the sixth point of the Medvedev-Sarkozy Plan. So it shouldn’t expect gratitude for that.