Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov regularly crosses swords with journalists, television pundits and other parasites. It’s never a fair fight—but is that really Lavrov’s fault? Nein.
What we find so endearing about Sergey is that he’s not your typical diplomat who mutters something incoherent and then pulls the fire alarm when confronted with an obnoxious question. Lavrov knows how to throw down. And the results are always devastating and highly educational.
This was certainly the case yesterday in Berlin, where Lavrov answered media questions about Russia’s relationship with Europe.
One journalist in particular had a creative suggestion: Maybe Russia could cancel its upcoming military exercises with Belarus in order to restore mutual trust with NATO?
Buckle up, because Sergey Lavrov is about to give you a crash course in “mutual trust” between Russia and NATO:
Question: Russia-NATO relations are complicated. Both sides are accusing each other of provocations. There is talk of Europe’s remilitarisation. Russia is planning to hold large-scale military manoeuvres with Belarus, West 2017, in September. Maybe it should cancel or postpone these exercises so as to restore mutual trust?
Sergey Lavrov: Discussions of the scale of military exercises, confidence-building measures and efforts to reduce mutual suspicion are only possible on the basis of cooperation. On August 8, 2008, during the Beijing Olympics, Mikheil Saakashvili’s Georgia attacked South Ossetia. Russia, which had a peacekeeping contingent in South Ossetia under an OSCE mandate, called for holding an extraordinary meeting of the Russia-NATO Council. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the call and said that the council would be suspended, that its doors were closed to Russia, and that they will not talk with us. Everyone admitted in late 2008 that it was the wrong decision to make. It was decided that the Russia-NATO Council must work under any conditions and that it was especially important during a time of crisis.
The same mistake was made again after the developments in Kiev’s Maidan. The West suspended cooperation and contacts within the Russia-NATO Council. We had several joint programmes, including on the joint fight against terrorism. Russia, Germany and France were working on the STANDEX programme to create the technology for stand-off detection of explosives at the entrance to public places. It was a unique project, but it has been suspended. Our cooperation in Afghanistan was put on ice as well. Attempts have been made to revitalise the council. I believe that ambassadorial-level talks are scheduled to take place today.
We know how preparations for meetings with Russia are discussed at NATO. The predominant feature is not a desire to hold business-like discussions or to search for ways to reduce tension and normalise relations, but as a desire of the Russia-hating minority who call for punishing Russia for what is happening in Ukraine, which they describe as unacceptable aggression, annexation and occupation. If this is what they want to use the Russia-NATO Council for, then we need not attend its meetings. We will see whether common sense will prevail over the anti-Russia choir at the meeting that will be held today.
We definitely do not want to increase tension in Europe. But we know that the bloc’s military infrastructure is being deployed on our border. Canada, Germany and the UK are doing this in the Baltics and the United States in Poland, and this involves the delivery of a huge number of heavy weapons. What matters is not that they are only sending one battalion each or that they say we should not worry. This situation involves certain symbols and makes us think about historical analogies.
A year ago, President of Finland Sauli Niinisto proposed that Russian and NATO planes fly with their transponders operating. Finland, although it is not a NATO member, wants to see a tranquil situation in the Baltic Sea area. We put the idea on paper, added a few more details and presented this initiative at the Russia-NATO Council a year ago. But things are not moving. NATO, which keeps talking about reducing tension and coming to agreements, are not enthusiastic about this idea. Russia has been accused of violating agreements, while we say that NATO is building up its strength and has advanced far beyond the limits that are set out in the Russia-NATO Founding Act. We have called for our military personnel to meet within the framework of the Russia-NATO Council to show on the map where each country concerned has its forces in Europe. This will allow us to compare our potentials and to deal with this issue professionally rather than engage in doubletalk.
It is very important to resume the analysis and comparison of our military doctrines, which NATO has suspended as well. It has been shelved. We are open for cooperation and ready to resume this work. But are our partners ready as well? We will not cajole them into resuming negotiations. Everyone must decide for themselves.