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Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov press conference, 20 March 2009

Press Conference by Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Ryabkov on the Theme of Russian-US Relations, ITAR-TASS, March 20, 2009

Sergey Ryabkov: The meeting between the Russian and US presidents - Medvedev and Obama - slated for April 1 in London is symbolic. It will deal with concrete issues in favor of mutual understanding on the essential elements of the work we are engaged in together with the United States. We went through a complicated period in these relations recently. But we are certain that the lowest point of the cooling of our relations has been passed. The "resetting," of which there is much talk now at our US partners' suggestion, has begun. So far it works quite well. I would like to believe that a further strengthening of the dialogue, its intensification and the concretization of the areas of cooperation will enable us to build up this positive quality in bilateral relations. Our dialogue centers on strategic stability, questions linked to the prospects for concluding a new treaty to replace the START Treaty, which is set to expire in December this year. Missile defense issues are also in this line.

But it would be incorrect to think that the agenda does not extend beyond arms control. Apart from strategic issues, we have effectively worked and will continue to work on a very broad agenda: it covers bilateral matters, the conflict situations in other countries, overcoming the consequences of anthropogenic environmental impact and many other things. All of this attests to the huge potential inherent in relations between our countries. We are moderately upbeat about the upcoming period in Russian-US relations and expect serious results from the presidents' London meeting.

Question: Did Moscow react to a US initiative that envisages NATO's possible use of force without the consent of the UN Security Council?

Sergey Ryabkov: I don't quite see what initiative you mean, but, as far as I know, some ambiguity about the situations in which NATO is ready to use force has been present in its basic doctrinal documents for quite a while. Our approach consists in that it is necessary to ensure the absolute primacy of the existing norms of international law, by which I understand, first and foremost, strict observance of the Charter of the United Nations, which sets forth the right of any state to self-defense in case of aggression. The Seventh Chapter of the Charter contains a number of provisions that allow the UN Security Council to take coercive action in situations which the Council regards as threatening peace and security.

Personally, I am not clearly aware that based on these two guidelines, NATO is ready to decide whether to use force or not. But we would like to hope for this ambiguity to be removed as the North Atlantic Alliance further evolves and that NATO contributes substantially to the strengthening of international peace in this way.

Question: What do you think the White House policy toward Russia will be? In particular, what do you think about cooperation on missile defense?

Sergey Ryabkov: There were ups and downs in our relations over the course of the George Bush administration's eight years in power. And that was natural, considering the contradictory and many-sided character of US interests with regard to Russia, and the security issues of concern to Russia.

The "tonality" of the dialogue has recently changed in Moscow and Washington. We welcome this and try to mutually treat with understanding the approaches which we present to each other on the entire range of problems. In the wake of the altered tonality and change for the better we would like more substantive and deep changes to follow in practical matters. In the US the policy review process by the new administration is not yet over - including the technical side and the scheme developed under Bush in this sphere, the economic side of the project and the prospects for cooperation with Russia in this direction.

We stand ready for cooperation on missile defense, but not as a trace-horse which is harnessed to and pulls the cart in a direction set by others. This presupposes cooperation in terms of a joint study of threats and joint response options.

The way the system was built under President Bush could not but evoke concern. The appearance of a third GMD site in Europe would exert a negative impact on our strategic stability. We are conveying this to the new administration.

Question: What kind of Obama policy do you expect toward Iran?

Sergey Ryabkov: It is important to us that the new US administration is making accommodating moves toward Iran in the political and diplomatic sphere. We welcome this and consider this course to be optimal.

The alleviation of the United States' concerns and those of the international community over Iran's realization of its nuclear program - this is all reflected in the UN Security Council resolutions and in the reports of the IAEA Director General. Russia believes that a political and diplomatic path, efforts toward striking up a substantive dialogue with Iran on all issues can restore trust towards the solely peaceful character of Iran's nuclear program.

For the time being, we see no signs of a switch of this program to military purposes, which many refer to. And in this we're in full solidarity with the conclusions of the latest report of the director general of the IAEA.

Question: What is the position of Russia on resolving the nuclear problem in North Korea?

Sergey Ryabkov: The approbated format of the six international mediators is used to solve the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem. Themes relating to denuclearization are discussed within its framework. There were certain accords on this issue under the previous US administration, they were useful. We urge all parties to move in this direction; it is optimal for settlement of the problem.

Question: What do you understand by the "evolution of NATO" and what do you think about the entry of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO?

Sergey Ryabkov: By the "evolution of NATO" I understand three things.

Firstly, the analysis of the activities of the alliance which it conducts in terms of military planning and in terms of conceptual assumptions allows us to state the bloc's heightened attention to problems lying outside its traditional zone of geographical responsibility. Essentially, it is a claim to a global role, and this we can't ignore. NATO in recent years has in practical terms been active far beyond its zone of responsibility and geographical boundaries.

The second direction of the evolution is movement towards further erosion of the clarity of the criteria for use of force. As a matter of fact, many NATO documents, especially after the bombing of Yugoslavia, formulate these criteria rather vaguely. Coupled with the claim to a global role, this circumstance cannot remain outside the scope of our attention and analysis.

The third direction of the evolution is the enlargement of NATO, the admission of new member countries to it. We consider the policy of enlarging NATO and admitting new members erroneous. No answer can be given through the NATO enlargement to a single one of the real security challenges with which NATO, Russia and the world community are currently faced. On the contrary, only broad cooperation in various formats and use of creative approaches to solving security problems can offer an adequate answer to these challenges. This position was largely behind the initiative put forward by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last year to craft a European Security Treaty.

Russia foresees a serious discussion with the United States on the theme of the consequences of the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia. As to the consequences of the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, this theme will also have to be discussed in London.

Question: What is the fate of the Russian proposals on a new treaty on strategic offensive arms?

Sergey Ryabkov: We have already travelled a definite stretch of road in terms of the concretization of approaches to what a future accord must look like, a legally binding document to replace the existing one. We have been conducting an intensive dialogue with both the previous and the new administration. The pace of the negotiation process depends on how fast the complex procedure of the appointment and Senate approval of persons at the level of deputies ends. As soon as the Senate approves the candidates for these jobs, we will be ready to enter into full-format talks. We have enough time to work out a serious and detailed document before December. Given the will, everything is achievable. Washington is also determined to conclude that accord.

Question: Will economic matters be discussed at the meeting? For example, overcoming the financial crisis?

Sergey Ryabkov: The Foreign Ministry is currently working on material toward the Russian and US leaders' meeting in London on April 1. The world financial crisis and the G20 meeting are a natural setting for bilateral discussions on all topical issues at presidential level. In addition, a number of economic themes also exist that bear a purely Russian-American character, without a globalistic touch.

It is even awkward to mention some of those themes. In particular, it's abolition of the Jackson-Vanik amendment. This is not even a rudiment of the previous era, but simply nonsense. The existence in American legislation of the amendment that was introduced on grounds of restrictions on the emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel, in the conditions when we have long since had a visa-free regime of joint trips with Israel, is an absurdity. It is probably not worth while to speak of this and explain it to our US partners for the hundredth time, they are perfectly aware of this, it is rather their issues.

Russia and the United States also have other bilateral issues. We want to diversify trade and to develop investment processes better. There are already substantial achievements in these spheres.

The dialogue with the Americans is one of the most intensive. We are jointly preparing an outcome document of the G20. We hope that the London meeting will produce instructions on the parameters on which we will negotiate and at what pace. In the course of the preparation we check out the issues and mutually test the approaches. Moscow and Washington have no insurmountable differences on the theme of overcoming the global financial crisis. I hope that the London meeting will end with a signal about where we will go further.

Question: Will Russia link the SOA and ABM accords?

Sergey Ryabkov: I hope that Russia will manage to come to a mutual understanding with the United States on the SOA and ABM issue and to formulate an acceptable policy.

A clear understanding existed in both capitals for decades that strategic stability is bolstered if both components are limited in this sphere. For certain reasons the Bush administration decided to unilaterally withdraw from the ABM Treaty. The documents concerning the limitation and reduction of offensive arms (START 1 and the Moscow Treaty) have thus found themselves removed from the second part of this foundation of strategic stability, which did not by itself abolish the objective link between these components.

We are going to discuss the measure of lowering the ceilings of and reducing warheads in negotiations with the new Obama administration. The significance of antimissile potential rises for military-technical reasons, whether we want this or not. So to close our eyes and pretend that the issues of strategic offensive arms are in an airless space, and that missile defense-related themes constitute a separate subject would be irresponsible from the political and military points of view. We will try to convey this logic to our American partners.

I expect this question to be adequately perceived and that we will be able to reach mutual understanding in this sphere and to formulate a contemporary policy acceptable to Moscow and Washington in this regard.

Russia hopes to arrange with the United States for a meeting of the heads of the foreign affairs and defense agencies of the two countries in the first half of the summer. By then it will be understandable how far we have advanced and what truly divides us on SOA and ABM and other issues.

We are now witnessing a surge of contact activity under different auspices. Many US delegations have visited Moscow in recent days, from the Kissinger-Primakov group on - including a delegation of the bipartisan Hagel-Hart commission, which has released a very interesting and highly positive report with recommendations to the present administration on future relations between our countries. A number of conferences were held in which representatives of the American Nuclear Threat Initiative took part; the Atlantic Council also came here. Our delegation of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs led by Alexander Shokhin traveled to meet with Vice President Joseph Biden; political scientists are meeting.

This indicates that a "positive wind" is seizing not only the official levels of our relations; the widest and most influential sections on both sides are getting involved in the work for a positive change. For us this is very gratifying, and we support and encourage it to the extent that we can.

As to a further schedule of official contacts, it is important for us to launch negotiations on a new treaty on strategic offensive arms at present. How they will be configured and who are going to stand at the head of the delegations hinges largely on the decisions not yet fully made in Washington; it is therefore too early to speak of personalities.

Source: Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, www.russianembassy.org.

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