9 Jun 2020

Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov: U.S. sanctions against Nord Stream 2 aimed at undermining EU industries

Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov has given an interview to Interfax, in which he speaks about prospects of the Nord Stream 2 project amid attempts of the United States and some other countries, in particular Poland, to derail this project, Moscow's reaction to Berlin's accusations of hacker attacks staged from Russia, and the problem of displaced valuables in relations with Germany. He also spoke about Norway's military build-up directed against Russia and signals coming from London that the United Kingdom is ready to restore relations with Russia.

Question: Poland has recently adopted a new edition of the national security strategy, which describes Russia as the main threat. Simultaneously, Warsaw has attained the increase of the U.S. military contingent by 1,000 servicemen under the pretext of the threat posed by Russia. This year Poland has completed the deployment of elements of the U.S. global missile defense system. Doesn't it look like Poland is turning into the main 'thorn' in Europe from the point of view of Russia's security? Will Russia take this factor into consideration in its military planning?

Answer: Poland's recently adopted strategy merely confirms the course toward confrontation with Russia, which has been pursued by the authorities of that country for the past few years. Warsaw clearly defines itself as a proponent of various kinds of anti-Russian initiatives, including military initiatives, and actively exploits the alleged Russian threat. Naturally, we take into account the fervent aspiration of Polish authorities to score foreign political points in the eyes of 'senior' partners by trading the possibility of neighborly relations for illusory militarist bonuses.

After all, Russophobia is a finite resource. Still, our Polish partners are raising the stakes and even beginning to consider deploying nuclear weapons to the territory of Poland. The course toward provoking Russia could be rejected, even by Warsaw's allies. We're monitoring the threats to our security which are coming from the Polish territory and will take relevant measures in order to give an efficient response.

Q.: Apart from the military element, there are examples proving that Poland acts as a proponent of U.S. effort to oust Russia from European energy markets, including from former USSR countries. These include the construction of terminals for storing American LNG, the involvement of a Polish company in shipping American oil to Belarus, and the Baltic Pipe project for delivering natural gas from Norway for its further re-export. Does Russia consider such Poland's actions as a threat to its energy interests? Does Russia have potential to counter such moves of the Polish side and mitigate their negative consequences?

A.: Russia is not setting itself the goal of obtaining the position of a monopoly in the area of energy supplies to the European market.

We're in favor of honest, transparent and fair competition. We're okay with the desire of third countries to promote their own energy resources. It's clear that someone wanted to turn a profit on Russophobia. But we have objective competitive advantages, as well as the reputation of a reliable partner, backed by decades of uninterrupted supplies of energy resources.

The Poles must decide for themselves. It's only a matter of common sense. Are they prepared to overpay in the current difficult situation in the global economy for all these political tricks, thus reducing the competitiveness of their own economy?

Q.: Using various legal and political tools, Poland is actively and systemically making steps to hinder the Nord Stream 2 project. It is possible that this project falls under the EU's Third Energy Package. If it happens, is Russia certain that the project is completed and implemented in full?

A.: We are confident that Nord Stream 2 will be completed and commissioned in spite of all the efforts on the part of our detractors to derail the project. Russia, which exports gas, and many other European countries that buy our gas, above all Germany, have an interest in the new gas pipeline. According to all forecasts, demand in the EU for Russian energy supplies will only grow in the foreseeable future.

Regarding the EU's Third Energy Package, as well as the new EU gas directive extending its provisions to trans-border pipelines, Germany's federal grid agency, Bundesnetzagentur, in May this year rejected the application of Nord Stream 2 AG to withdraw the gas pipeline from their operation. However, as far as we know, the operator company intends to continue negotiations with the German authorities on this issue.

The option of additional adaptation of the project to EU standards remains open without significant negative consequences for it.

It's not a secret that the U.S. has been aggressively promoting its expensive liquefied natural gas on the European market, without shying away from either open or backstage political pressure on its allies. The Poles seem to be yielding to it. Nord Stream 2 opponents in Washington threaten to apply sanctions on European participants in the project, hoping to boost competitiveness of American LNG and at the same time to cast a blow on the competitiveness of the EU's energy-intensive industries. The cheaper the energy is, the lower the production costs are.

Q.: German authorities voiced at the highest level concern over alleged cyberattacks at Bundestag by hackers from Russia five year ago and hacked personal documents of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In your opinion, why is it gaining momentum now? Is Russia ready to give necessary explanations to Germany in order to diffuse this misunderstanding in bilateral relations?

A.: The topic of 'Russian hackers' has become 'fashionable' for demonizing Russia. Repeated proposals of the Russian side to discuss concerns of the German partners in detail and to attentively look at certain allegations have at any moment been left unanswered. A question arises, why speculating on this topic now?

As it often happens in similar cases, Berlin started to refer to some data obtained from U.S. special services. Moreover, on May 30, German police detained Russian citizen Denis Kaznacheyev, whom the Americans again charge with some financial cybercrimes. If Germany really has documented evidence of someone's culpability obtained from overseas, we're ready to establish dialogue upon studying those documents. For now, we can only regret that new baseless allegations against us are spoiling the atmosphere of Russian-German relations.

Q.: The German side has been insisting of the return of cultural valuables taken to Russia after WW II. In particular, Germany wants to return the artefacts found by Heinrich Schliemann and the Eberswalde Hoard, as well as thousands of golden objects and decorations of the 9th century BC. Is Moscow ready to meet Berlin halfway in this area, or the topic of restitution is closed for Russia?

A.: The issue of displaced cultural valuables has long been on the agenda of the Russian-German cultural and political dialogue. This is a very subtle and delicate matter, which cannot be addressed without considering the colossal damage done to cultural valuables of Russia and the entire Soviet Union by Nazi Germany's aggression during the Great Patriotic War and the general state of affairs in bilateral relations, which have once been better.

Any goodwill gestures should be mutual. We expect Germany to reciprocate the effort to locate and return Russia's displaced valuables, as well as to restore Russia's cultural heritage, which was destroyed during the war. We are ready for joint projects with partners aimed at making trophy art accessible to the public

We are ready for joint projects that would seek making trophy art available for public.

Q.: Russia has accumulated a lot claims that are related to Norway's infringement of Russia's interests in Spitsbergen. The Norwegian side is known to be rejecting Russian attempts to start discussing this topic. Are we ready to leave everything as it is, or Russia will seek engaging Oslo into constructive dialogue in order to eradicate current disagreements? How crucial is this topic for bilateral relations?

A.: So far, the Norwegians are persistently refusing from consultations on problems of Russia's presence in Spitsbergen. And quite a few such issues have accumulated. These include, in particular, restrictions on the flights of a helicopter belonging to the federal state company Arcticugol, the procedure directed against Russian citizens for deportation from the archipelago, the obstruction of access to areas on the archipelago promising from a scientific and touristic perspective, the under-funding of the needs of Russian communities from Spitsbergen's budget, the detentions of Russian vessels in the so-called fishery conservation zone, and other problems. While Norwegian authorities have suggested that the problems should be addressed in collaboration with the Spitsbergen governor, the governor does not possess enough resources to resolve them. In reality, the Spitsbergen governor, for dialogue with who the authorities call, obviously lacks resources. The fundamental issues have not been resolved, and problems have been piling up. Moreover, contrary to the provisions of the 1920 treaty guaranteeing equitable free access and equal opportunities for pursuing economic activities, new restrictions have been imposed on developing tourism, doing full-scale research, and implementing business projects on the pretext of environmental protection considerations.

In response to our requests for dialogue, Oslo has referred to the absence of the practice of consultations with the signatories to the 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty, meaning that Russia is not an exception here. We cannot agree with this approach. Out of the 44 states that signed the 1920 treaty, only Russia, apart from Norway, has maintained economic activities in Spitsbergen.

The difficulties experienced by Russian economic operators in the archipelago have been regularly on the agenda of all Russian-Norwegian political and diplomatic contacts. It's important to understand that Russia has been pursuing economic activities in Spitsbergen for decades and isn't going to phase out its presence there.

Q.: Another irritant in relations with Norway is the growing activity of NATO near Russia's northern borders. Large-scale NATO exercises have many times been held in Norway, and such neutral states as Finland and Sweden are actively engaged in these exercises, just as their military infrastructure. Does Russia consider this as a threat to its national security and its activity in the Arctic region?

A.: Norwegian authorities' steps to boost their military activity, including NATO military preparations, sometimes in the immediate proximity of the Russian border, evoke questions. The plans being developed in Norway for the development of the national armed forces are of an overtly anti-Russian nature.

U.S. Marines and British servicemen are permanently stationed in Norway, and it has been announced that these units will be enlarged. In practice, we're observing a deviation from Norway's 'base policy,' which has been adhered to since 1949, and which envisions a refusal to deploy foreign military bases on the country's territory in times of peace.

The number of visits by NATO submarines, including nuclear-powered ones, to Norwegian ports has doubled in the past decade. A new, more powerful radar station is under construction as part of an upgrade of the existing Globus II radar in Vardo in northern Norway, 50 kilometers from the Russian border. The functions of the new radar will include monitoring Russian airspace in the interests of the U.S. missile defense system. Norway's military leadership has announced plans to deploy new units in the Subarctic, where it also wants to intensify training exercises with allies. Last year, Norway's Orland Air Base took part in the NATO Air Force multinational Exercise Arctic Challenge 2019, which involved more than 100 planes from the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland.

At the same time, Norway, for some reason, reacts quite painfully to exercises conducted by the Russian Armed Forces in the north, in particular, the Russian Navy, which acts in compliance with international law and does not create any threats to Norway's security. The effort of Norway's authorities to increase military activity in the Arctic, the willingness to include it in NATO's zone of responsibility are a direct path toward undermining today's peace, stability, and the atmosphere of interaction in the region.

Q.: Does Russia see any changes for the better in the attitude of the UK towards Russia under Boris Johnson? Could Brexit to a certain extent untie the hands of the UK and expand horizons of bilateral economic cooptation, which is far better than stagnating political relations?

A.: We believe that it's time to turn the page in our relations with the United Kingdom and move on. We've made such a proposal. We are committed to boosting mutually advantageous contacts in key areas. We are ready to normalize and develop relations as much as the British side is prepared to do so.

The messages we have been receiving from official London lately indicate that they are also prepared to rebuild cooperation. Time will tell whether their intentions are real.

As for Brexit, we basically view it as an opportunity to take a fresh look at the development of trade and economic relations between our countries. We suggest that relevant bilateral consultations be arranged. The ball is in the court of Britain, which so far doesn't hurry to complete the negotiations with the EU.

Q.: Representatives Sweden ask in contacts with the Russian side to declassify all archives related to the fate of diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Why doesn't Moscow meet Stockholm halfway?

A.: The joint Russian-Swedish working group for the fate of Swedish diplomat Wallenberg, which was established in 1991, completed its work in January 2001. The group held about two dozens of plenary sessions and many expert meetings. More than 10,000 archive cases were considered. Materials that usually are a part of archive searches were studied. In particular, prison books in which dates and times of summoning the prisoner for interrogations were recorded were studied.

All available documents were fully given to the Swedish side. Results of the work of this group are in published final reports of its Russian and Swedish parts.

Despite the conclusion of this work, the Russian side does not refuse further cooperation in the area of determining Wallenberg's fate. Several dozen requests from Swedish experts and other foreign citizens conducting inquiries into the diplomat's fate have been considered over the past years. A large quantity of additional declassified materials has been sent to the Swedish side. However, it hasn't been possible to add any substantial documental proof to the already available information, including the theory of a number of Swedish researchers that Wallenberg was alive after July 17, 1947, the date of his death in a Soviet jail, which has been actively circulated in the past few years.