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Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov on missile defence and START, March 21, 2007

Interview of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, Published in the Newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta on February 21 and 28, 2007

Question: Poland and the Czech Republic have actually agreed to host elements of the US strategic antimissile defense system on their territory. How could Moscow react? What can we counteract?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: We will certainly react. But we will react without hysteria. We cannot afford to be drawn into an arms race again.

I am certain that our response will be such as not to provoke a new arms race spiral. We have gone through this already. We just have no right to put our economic and financial wellbeing at risk after all those efforts the President, the government, the whole country have made to lay a foundation for our future.

As the President has many times stated, our response will be asymmetric. It will be based on technologies our defense industry sector, our science can develop. Our main criterion is ensuring the Russian Federation's security and maintaining strategic stability as much as possible.

This topic has been regularly raised in the Russian-American dialogue at the top level, high level, and defense agency level. We have to feel our special responsibility for strategic stability in the world, because this does not only concern Russian-US relations. An agreement in principle between our presidents on that a concrete discussion should be started on the fate of our agreements concerning strategic stability, reached during a bilateral meeting in the framework of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, has special significance -- especially as the START I Treaty expires in 2009.

We have started such consultations already. I am convinced that we need a substantive discussion on how those lethal weapons could be curbed on the basis of mutual trust and balance of forces and interests. We will insist particularly on this approach. We do not need just the talk that we are no longer enemies and therefore we should not have restrictions for each other. This is not the right approach. It is fraught with an arms race, in fact, because it is very unlikely that either of us will be ready to lag behind a lot.

As for the problem of strategic stability in Europe, we have many times stated that, as experts are convinced, if we really speak about potential threats coming, say, from Iran or North Korea, antimissile defense components should be sited not where it has been proposed to site them.

If they are deployed particularly in Poland and the Czech Republic, military analysts must estimate elementary trajectories of the missiles those systems are supposed to intercept. We certainly cannot avoid saying that the facilities are quite suitable for intercepting missiles launched from Russian territory.

It is not that we are going to launch those missiles, but it is that the whole philosophy of the antimissile defense treaty was based on eliminating the temptation to deliver a first strike.

But if -- as American strategists expect, perhaps -- defense against the first strike is guaranteed, one may have another temptation -- delivering a first strike, while knowing that one has a chance to go unpunished.

And the last point to make. The way decisions are made on the deployment of NMD elements in Poland and the Czech Republic does not comply with the notion of democracy. The public opinion, the opinion of the allies has not been taken into account. Perhaps, you have heard many comments made in Europe. My counterpart, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made a number of statements the other day to note the need to resolve strategic issues of that kind with account of the opinion of all those who could react negatively to this course of events. And he directly mentioned Russia.

We appreciate this fair position and we believe that it was not prompted just by the willingness to please us, but rather by the understanding of the responsibility of European countries, particularly the leading member countries of NATO and the European Union.

We know also that in the Czech Republic and Poland there is a serious segment of the public opinion that does not support this kind of proposals. We know about the ideas of arranging polls and referendums. But the leadership in both countries has no intention to deal with that and they have stated their readiness to host the third missile launching area in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic...

Question: Since the speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Munich, which became famous overnight, nearly three weeks have already passed. There was enough time to analyze the response reaction. So after all whom can we count on, as they say?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: There were and there are enough partners who think the way we do. I will say more: they are the majority. Firstly, the President essentially said nothing new he hadn't said before. For example, in his recent addresses to the Federal Assembly or while speaking at the Foreign Ministry last June in his meeting with Russia's ambassadors abroad.

The President had repeatedly in detail and with examples said about this in contacts with the US leadership. Other representatives of the Russian leadership had also made the point, drawing attention to the fact that to go on conducting affairs this way was not going to work. If we want to fight the common threats and challenges for all together, then by joint actions should not be meant the calls on all others to join a strategy being developed unilaterally. By joint actions should be meant collective work from the very beginning: a joint review of the situation, and the joint elaboration of the measures that are necessary for surmounting this or that crisis.

Only the approach can be effective that has been agreed upon by all the players involved in resolving a particular situation. But when an absolutely unilateral strategy is being suggested to us and we are being called upon to display solidarity in the struggle against this or that evil (and we have our own views as to how this evil can be fought, although the ultimate aims of getting it removed coincide), this is not how partners behave.

We cannot accept such an approach. Neither can the overwhelming majority of other countries of the world, including most European nations, accept it. I can assure you that the same theses that the President set out in Munich, in diverse variations, and sometimes far more critical, were and continue to be voiced in confidential conversations with us.

We understand that not everybody can utter this aloud. But somebody had to say it. In addition, as we were unable to get heard directly by our partners and draw their attention to the fact that, in general, affairs ought to be conducted in a partner-like way, the President said about this in public. He did not say it in order to accuse somebody of something, but in order to move things off dead center and lay bare these problems. To show the need for an honest discussion on how to conduct affairs in the world today.

For, these affairs affect everyone. The disintegration of Iraq, for example, will have disastrous consequences for many. Afghanistan, the Middle East, Kosovo, the problems of international terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons, Iran, the DPRK: all of this can in one way or another reverberate with many countries, including Russia. And we are by no means indifferent to how affairs are being conducted in this or that region.

Say, regarding Iraq even before the start of the war we had more than once warned that this was a mistake. And now when we are exhorted to help a settlement in Iraq in every way, we are ready.

We are not going to fall into Schadenfreude: "Now you've landed yourself in a mess, although we warned you." Let historians engage in answering the question: Who was right? It is far more important for us all to solve a practical task now - to avert catastrophe in Iraq and prevent the disintegration of that country, which will entail a chain reaction, considering the Kurdish problem, considering the deepening split between Shiites and Sunnis.

The dialogue of civilizations presupposes an intracivilizational alliance as well. It should not be allowed to attempt to split Islam into Sunnis and Shiites and try to pacify some with the hands of the others. Although we haven't created the Iraq situation, we want to work to get this situation resolved together. And they tell us: "We know how to do it, here's our new strategy. And you please give your support - write off Iraq's debts or send your companies there, let them restore the Iraqi economy; arm the Iraqi army."

We respond: "Okay, Russia is ready to help on all these fronts, but on condition that a national reconciliation process really begins in Iraq." We can lend support to the Iraqi army and security forces, but on condition that the arms supplied are not used for civil war. Let us sit down and begin to help the Iraqis with national plans in a real way, drawing among others the so called patriotic opposition and enlisting all of Iraq's neighbors without exception, including Iran and Syria, with the members of the Security Council and the League of Arab States also joining in. This has been our proposal since 2003. So far we haven't managed to get a response.

And then, the exhortations "how so, you can't remain aloof" are no longer accepted. Not just by us alone. Simply there are those who can't refuse the United States. In our case, however, we can allow ourselves to speak the truth and not merely reject the unilateral proposals for support, but set out concrete constructive alternatives that we believe will make cooperation possible. And not only for us, but also for the overwhelming majority of countries on whom the resolution of the Iraqi situation depends.

Question: In other words, we feel at last strong enough, standing firmly on our feet, to tell what the majority can't say.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: In our centuries-old political tradition there was always the desire, readiness and necessity to speak the truth and have our own view of things. It's another matter that, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the unprecedented weakness of Russia did restrain our capabilities. It was financial dependence that simply strangled the country and the economic breakdown, due among other things to the shift to new forms of management, and the shortage of food and the dependence on humanitarian assistance. Of course, all this, naturally, fettered the inherent striving of Russia to speak the truth and act independently.

Now that all these problems are settled, we can for the first time in a very long historical period simultaneously to tackle the tasks of both developing the economy and switching it to an innovative level, to adopt modern technologies, to deal with social problems, and to embark on the modernization of the Armed Forces. I do not remember in our history a period when we could afford to simultaneously tackle such extensive and fateful tasks.

We now have the resources to participate not only in realizing world policy on most issues, but most important - we have acquired the possibility and capacity to participate in the elaboration of approaches which can later be realized. For this to happen, though, I repeat that it is necessary that all our leading partners should be ready to act collectively.

Question: Reports have appeared on news agency tapes that the Americans have actually selected targets on Iranian territory. It turns out that a new war in the Middle East is not far off? Or do you consider that Washington in regard to Teheran continues using the tactic of intimidation?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Well, of course, it will be sad if in the Middle East, in a region adjoining Russia, a new seat of hostilities appears. In a situation when in Iraq things are getting worse by the day and when, as President Bush has publicly acknowledged, in Afghanistan the situation is degrading and the number of terrorist acts has increased many times over, as has the number of killed and wounded, to add to this one more hotbed will be extremely short-sighted. In addition, let us not forget about the explosive situation in Palestine and Lebanon.

We are convinced of the futility of attempts to solve any crisis by force, including, of course, the situation around Iran's nuclear program. At our insistence, juridically, the United Nations Security Council decisions that were adopted on Iran are clearly limited to economic sanctions. The Council's resolution cites the particular article of the United Nations Charter that expressly rules out the use of force.

I was recently in Washington and had the opportunity to touch upon this question at my meeting with President George Bush as well as in the talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I was told that the United States had no plans to start war with Iran. Of late the American leadership has been saying the same in public.

But we, of course, remember that earlier the US President, while stressing his commitment to a political settlement of the problem, would add that no options were ruled out. Recently Vice President Richard Cheney said it again. We are, of course, worried by the possibility of a force-based scenario. We are watching the US forces buildup in the Persian Gulf area. It was announced that at least one aircraft-carrier task force would be deployed there. In parallel the Americans are deploying elements of air defense in the zone. You understand, when such an amassment of manpower and resources occurs, this is always fraught with the possibility that an armed conflict might be triggered accidentally.

The President of the Russian Federation just visited Gulf countries: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan. After this I also went to the United Arab Emirates. The leaderships of all these countries are extremely worried by the prospect of the start of another war. I think that now all those who can somehow influence the situation are duty-bound to seek to keep it on the political track. This applies fully to the leadership of Iran as well, with which we continue to work persistently and from which we expect a constructive response to the offers for talks.

Two weeks ago Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Igor Ivanov visited Teheran, where he met with top Iranian leaders. He conveyed a message from the President of Russia. After this we received in Moscow the Iranian supreme leader's foreign policy adviser Ali Velayati. Consultations within the Six are being held right now these days with our participation, and Iranian representatives are in contact with the IAEA Director General.

Given the well-known, not exactly constructive position of Iran on the previous attempts to start talks, perhaps it will be incorrect to feel optimism over all this, but at least we proceed from the necessity to do everything to try and start talks as soon as possible.

Russia has suggested to our western partners that a detailed statement be made on behalf of the Six, re-emphasizing in it the invitation to Iran to begin talks. That possibility was discussed as early as December, when we were working on the previous resolution of the Security Council.

It would be a pity, an unforgivable thing, if because of a misunderstood prestige, because of intransigence on both side we missed an opportunity to use all the possibilities for starting such talks.

The situation around the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem shows that with the readiness to make a small step towards each other, and those were the steps made by Washington and Pyongyang, it is possible to resume the negotiation process.

Question: Do the latest contacts with Iranian representatives give at least the slightest grounds to assume that there will appear some new "little hooks" which it will be possible to pull? Or does there stand the wall?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The US continues to insist on having it its own way and keeps refusing to waive principles. Washington is ready to sit down with Teheran at the negotiating table only after the Iranians "freeze" their nuclear program. Iran in its turn says: we are ready for talks, but without any preliminary conditions. We, Iranian leaders continue, have no plans to produce a nuclear bomb, but we do have the right to have a full nuclear cycle in accordance with the Nonproliferation Treaty.

To which we say to them: "Yes, but you have a little debt to the IAEA. For years you engaged in what seemed to be not prohibited activities, but experts from the IAEA got some questions in the process, as you did not inform them of those activities, although you had to. So answer them, close these questions. And then you're going to restore your full rights under the Nonproliferation Treaty." The Iranian colleagues again say to this that they are ready for talks without preliminary conditions.

As a result each remains of the same opinion. It was not by chance that I cited the talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem as an example. For a long time the Americans had been saying that they would not tackle the problem of their unilateral financial sanctions against the DPRK until the talks were resumed. But after all the direct contacts made it possible to find a mutually acceptable, mutually respectful compromise. The talks have begun. I am convinced that a similar scheme can also be used to solve Iran's nuclear problem, given the wish.

A no-compromise stance can hardly be ascribed to the positive qualities of diplomacy. Any diplomacy. Diplomacy is the art of communication. In communicating, you have to consider the partner's position. Take another example. The Middle East Quartet has formulated the criteria to which the new government of Palestine must conform. These criteria envisage the renunciation of violence, the acceptance of all previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israel as well as the recognition of Israel. Through the mediation of the King of Saudi Arabia, who used all his weight in the Arab world, the Palestinians reached consensus on the formation of a government on the principles of respect for all the existing decisions of the international community, the decisions of the League of Arab States and the peace accords between Palestinians and Israelis. This was a big step in the right direction, including a de facto recognition of Israel.

If an uncompromising stance is now taken: "We will not deal with the new Palestinian government until it recognizes Israel de jure," then the consensus reached with enormous difficulty within Palestine will inevitably be called into question. This aim remains in full, and we shall continue to induce Hamas to move in this direction, but not to see the real progress that has already been achieved is incorrect and shortsighted.

Question: A reader's question. Russian media are sounding the alarm - "the barrier is being closed." It is about the toughening of visa regulations for Russians by a number of European states. And secondly. It's no secret that to receive a visa the citizens of Russia in a number of embassies in Moscow have to present, for example, a bank account statement. This is an obvious violation of our rights. It is hard to imagine that somebody would ask an American to present information on his bank account...

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Of course, embassies cannot engage in spontaneous actions. They cannot apply in their consular, visa work any rules that are not approved or are not a part of the instructions.

As to complaints against the actions of particular embassies, they, naturally, arise periodically. We all understand that on the eve of the New Year holidays the French embassy found itself besieged, because people did not manage to receive visas having paid for their New Year tours. Similar cases arise in other embassies as well. There were many problems with the Americans, who indeed most meticulously approached the ascertainment of financial and family status, apparently suspecting that Russians' sole dream is to go to America, abandoning all their property, deserting all their relatives and friends.

As to European countries, just a few days ago first the Russian State Duma and then the European Parliament approved an agreement on visa facilitation. The ratification procedure will be completed in the nearest future. I expect that as soon as this agreement comes into force, many problems will be removed and the possibilities will appear for a more comfortable visa regime.

Many categories of citizens, including journalists, athletes, businesspeople, officials, parliamentarians, and participants of scientific, cultural and educational exchanges, will be able to receive multiple Schengen visas up to a five-year period. We are planning to post on the Foreign Ministry's web site detailed information on what conditions are envisaged in this document. Maybe we will ask Rossiiskaya Gazeta to publish the text of the agreement together with the commentaries of our Consular Department...

Question: What served as the ground for the return of Russia's ambassador to Tbilisi? And under what conditions will the air and rail links with Georgia be resumed?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: We have repeatedly conveyed to our Georgian colleagues that we want to develop full-fledged, normal, good-neighborly and friendly relations. The criteria by which we will judge the readiness of the Georgian leadership to return to a full-fledged dialogue are attitude to Russia as a whole, including public assessments of these relations by Georgian leaders, and, especially, the concrete actions of the Georgian side with regard to the South Ossetian and Abkhaz conflicts.

In the last two years we observed continuous provocations against our peacekeepers, continuous attempts to undermine the existing negotiation and peacekeeping mechanisms and the buildup of military muscle on a scale which can only attest that the Georgian side was preparing a force-based solution to both problems. We toughly warned Georgia and those who, despite all these facts, actively invite Georgia into NATO that we would not allow this. We stressed that, apart from general security in this neighboring, important region for the stability of Russia's south, there is such an aspect as the existence of the tens of thousands of citizens of the Russian Federation in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We bear responsibility for them.

By the way, I shall say in parenthesis that we are sometimes accused of carrying out passportization in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia, and this supposedly reflects our line on undermining Georgian sovereignty. Nothing could be further from the truth. The situation is explained very simply. When the Georgian side unleashed these conflicts at the beginning of the 1990s, when they with enormous difficulty, particularly at the cost of Russian citizens' lives, were moved from a hot state to a "frozen" state, then, in fact, all the residents of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia turned out to be outside the legal system of Georgia.

De facto they were receiving no social support. As a result they asked the Russian Federation to help them in this regard as well as to grant them Russian citizenship in order to get access to these social possibilities. They just needed to survive somehow. That's precisely what happened in accordance with our laws, which presupposed the possibility for any citizen of the former Soviet Union to get Russian citizenship.

Here I shall note that those who try to accuse us of purportedly using the granting of citizenship to undermine Georgian sovereignty, for some reason pay no attention at all to the situation that is evolving in Moldova, where, according to some data, there takes place the massive acquisition of the citizenship of Romania in response to the active offers of such citizenship on the part of Bucharest.

This is occurring in a country which borders a European Union member, and our EU, and then also NATO partners in no way comment upon this process.

The Russian ambassador returned to Georgia when we noted some changes in the actions of the Georgian leadership. The number of provocations against our peacekeepers had been reduced. The degree of rhetoric had been lowered. Undoubtedly, we also noted how constructively the talks had passed regarding gas supplies to Georgia for 2007. In a business-like way, without any politicization, the appropriate documents had been signed.

This enabled us to conclude about the advisability of returning the Russian ambassador to Tbilisi. In so doing we presumed that this step would facilitate the further normalization of relations between Russia and Georgia, primarily, from the vantage point of further positive evolution in the position of the Georgian side.

Talks are now under way on the settlement of the debts of Georgia's airlines to their Russian partners. There is a ground to expect that this matter can be settled. Our further steps for resuming full-fledged ties with Georgia will, nevertheless, depend primarily on how Georgia acts with regard to the conflicts on its territory.

There are totally concrete questions here, which can no longer be left unsolved. For more than a year the Georgian side has been refusing to conclude agreements with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the nonuse of force to settle these conflicts and on security guarantees. We can accept no explanations of such a stance of Georgia. This has to be done unconditionally. In addition, the Georgian side does not observe the previous agreements that were reached as part of efforts to normalize relations between Georgia and South Ossetia and between Georgia and Abkhazia.

Question: What actions has the Foreign Ministry taken to improve the image of Russia?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I prefer to use the term "objective picture" of Russia and not image improvement. We have nothing to be ashamed of. And when we objectively speak about why and what we are doing both at home and in foreign policy, normal adequate people understand everything.

I see nothing disgraceful in when our life and our actions are described with critical notes. The main thing is that this should be done objectively. For, there is not a single country which would not have some things that it itself would not want to correct or improve. We want to be open. Always, when constructive criticism is leveled at us, and the President has said about this more than once, we are ready to listen and take note of it.

What can we do? Probably, just to tell more openly about what, why and how we are doing. The Foreign Ministry is endeavoring to build up this work. Although, I won't conceal it, the spate of negative and not fact-based articles abroad is simply amazing. Having realistically assessed our possibilities, we understand that Russia can compete with the West not so much by the quantity of information as by its quality and its truthfulness.

Source: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, http://www.russianembassy.org.

© 2007 The Acronym Institute.