11 Jan 2022

Federation Council Deputy Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov: Current rift in Russian-U.S. relations the 2nd most serious after Cuban Missile Crisis

Konstantin Kosachyov

Konstantin Kosachyov
Photo: Federation Council

Federation Council deputy speaker Konstantin Kosachyov has given an interview to Interfax in which he gives his vision of what happened in 2021 in the international arena, in particular the Iranian nuclear program, the prospects for the Nord Stream 2 project under the new German chancellor, as well as the reform of the UN Security Council.

Question: Let's start with probably the most pressing topic on the international agenda at the end of 2021. Western politicians are constantly claiming that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine. Moscow denies this. But since this issue is not going away, I have to ask you: is Moscow considering the use of force against Ukraine as a possible scenario?

Answer: Let me begin by saying that a new foreign policy toolkit has opened up in all its glory in front of our very eyes. Without bothering providing any evidence, the countries claiming exclusive right to rule the world drop an empty statement into the public space, hype it up by means of their own corporate possibilities and then try to make the opposite side, in this case Russia, justify itself and prove that it's not going to do what is ascribed to it.

This simply was not possible in the past. International relations implied a modicum of decorum would be observed. But times have changed. The states that are trying to oppose Russia now have long been discrediting our country and themselves believed at a certain stage that Russia is the same Evil Empire, as the USSR was called in the times of Reagan. They see no need to observe any decorum with respect to such an empire. On the contrary, they think it is possible to go beyond any limits or red lines. Although Russia has not given any reason to, as our actions have always remained within the framework of the international law.

To answer your question, I'm closely watching statements by Russian leaders, starting with the Russian president and others that are entitled to make them. In no statement have I seen confirmation of the theory that Russia has any plan to proactively attack Ukraine for any reason whatsoever. This is not a part of our foreign policy. And this would be senseless. I'm saying this as a Russian citizen now, there is no point in carrying out any military operation against Ukraine on our own initiative. This is a well-known thesis, but Russia has never ever been the first to attack anyone. I think this will never happen in the future as well.

The first part of my answer. No and no, Russia does not harbor any plans to conduct a military operation against Ukraine o its own volition.

The second part of my answer. We can see what is happening surrounding Donbas, how the situation is made tenser, how Ukraine is being prompted to try to resolve the problems of its south-east by military methods. This is just what Mr. [former Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili tried to do in relation to South Ossetia in 2008. Meanwhile, provocateurs both inside and outside Ukraine perfectly understand what will happen in this case. In no way anticipating how events could unfold, I simply want to remind these provocateurs that in the wake of the Tskhinval tragedy, Russia introduced serious amendments to its federal law on defense in November 2009. Article 10 of this law makes it possible to promptly use the Russian Armed Forces abroad. One of the grounds for which the Russian Armed Forces – once again in line with current Russian laws – can be urgently used in foreign countries is the protection of citizens of Russia outside of its territory in case of a military attack on them.

I would sincerely like to believe that the Ukrainian authorities will not dare use force against the civilian population in the south-east, where a large number of Russian citizens live, and that there will be no need to apply this law. And Russia, in turn, is doing everything it can to prevent such a scenario.

Q.: In your opinion, how relevant today is the issue of the possible recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics by Russia?

A.: Hypothetically, this could become relevant if and when all other ways to settle the conflict in southeastern Ukraine are exhausted. Many years have passed since the start of the conflict, but in Russia, we still view it as an internal Ukrainian conflict. It hasn't turned into a conflict between states. This is stipulated exhaustively in the Minsk Agreements. Of course, Russia, as a guarantor country, is ready to work in the interests of assisting the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, but on certain conditions.

This exactly how we once restored the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia faced similar disintegration threats. At the initial stage the country made futile attempts to resolve problems by military means, just as Kyiv is trying to do now. However, we have finally found absolutely the right and appropriate way to ensure Russia's territorial integrity. This is an exclusively political way, rather than one of force, and one that fully takes into account the interests of all peoples, ethnic groups and peoples involved. It is important that this was the own choice of all participants of the process. We accomplished this task in Russia. Similarly, Kyiv must respect rights and interests of its people living in southeastern Ukraine.

The West's level of understanding of what is happening in Ukraine is very low. Of course, such people will sincerely believe that Russia is trying to invade and absorb Ukraine but these are absolute ravings. Our strategy now is not to divide Ukraine somehow and tear some territories off it, but to help unite a brotherly nation, which includes ethnic Ukrainians, Russians, and members of a huge number of other ethnic groups. If and when Kyiv stops considering Donbas representatives as separatists and terrorists, if and when they see their own people with their unalienable rights and specific interests, then prospects for the implementation of the Minsk Agreement will emerge immediately.

Q.: Regarding the Minsk Agreements. This sounds like a mantra. The Minsk Agreements must be fulfilled and there are no alternatives to them. Meanwhile, Kyiv says that it is not content with these agreements. Do you think there is any point in updating, revising the agreements?

A.: These agreements are not being honored because Kyiv is not going to give any autonomy to the southeast and take into account the specific interests, humanitarian, economic, social, and political, of people living there. Today, Kyiv is apparently building a mono-ethnic state. It will either oust from the country or assimilate by force those who disagree with that. Any reform of the Minsk Agreements that are based on the principle that Ukraine is a poly-ethnic state and that there are specific interests of people living in certain territories, any deviation from the Minsk Agreements will be a deviation from the principles of poly-ethnicity for the sake of the principles of mono-ethnicity. This means that any modification of these agreements will be damaging the balance of interests inherent to them and will mean the suppression of the minority by the majority.

From my point of view, these agreements are unfulfilled not because Kyiv is not going to do that but because this is not mentioned in any assessments of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements made by the West. Kyiv is allowed not to fulfill the agreements. This is a serious geopolitical game because Kyiv's role is reduced to being an irritant in relations with Russia, to artificially ousting Russia from commonly recognized interstate communication and then discriminating against Russia by unlawful means.

Q.: Does this means that nothing should be changed in the agreements?

A.: In my opinion, this is inexpedient at this stage. This would only worsen the situation. The Minsk Agreements should be implemented. And since they exist, it makes sense to hold on to them like to a lifebuoy.

Q.: Yet another round of negotiations on the restoration of the Iranian nuclear deal started in Vienna. After the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran also seriously deviated from the deal. In your opinion, who should make the first step to return to the implementation of the JCPOA? Is it Iran or the U.S.?

A.: Iran agreed to start observing the plan of action in exchange for lifting sanctions from it. And Iran started to fulfill its part of obligations. But the Americans had stopped fulfilling their obligations even before they withdrew from the JCPOA. They didn't lift any sanctions from Iran or lifted them in some limited form rather than as comprehensively as Tehran expected.

I'm not altogether justifying Iran's actions. They are regrettable in some aspects. However, I'd like to make it extremely clear that those steps have not been irreversible. The Iranians have never approached the red line beyond which they would be capable of developing and manufacturing nuclear weapons. The uranium enrichment level has never been critically high. That is, the Iranians have made it clear all this time that, while being no longer constrained by the JCPOA obligations, they have de facto remained willing to develop their civilian nuclear program without crossing the bounds of a military program.

From my personal point of view, there will probably have to be a synchronous way-out of this situation – to return to the positions provided by the JCPOA at the same time. For instance, Iran should say that, over some period in time, it will return to the parameters indicated in this plan. And the U.S. should publicly vouch for each clause and commit to fulfill its obligations on lifting sanctions from Iran and resuming cooperation with it as much as possible within this same period of time. We see that the parties are still too far from this.

There have still been no direct contacts between Americans and Iranians at the sluggish negotiations in Vienna. This is a very difficult situation, but it wasn't Iran that provoked it. These were thoughtless actions by the previous American administration, which the incumbent administration is reversing in some respects. But unfortunately, the damage from this has still not been compensated for.

Above all, the Americans should persuade both Iran and the rest of the world that they can be negotiated with. After all, this confidence has been seriously undermined. The incumbent administration has not assessed Trump's actions. The Americans have never said that America under Trump breached its obligations and international law as concerns the JCPOA and that such actions are worthy of condemnation. If Washington said that this would never happen again, in my view, this would be an honest position on the U.S. part. But there is none of it.

I believe the incumbent American president should issue such a judgment and voice America's firm willingness not to act this way again. Otherwise, the U.S. will retain the label of an unreliable partner, negotiating with which is extremely dangerous. And the Iranians, who have been urged to phase out their nuclear program to some extent once and for all, wouldn't like to do so as long as the U.S. actions remain unpredictable.

Q.: You said that it is dangerous to make agreements with the U.S. However, Moscow right now is trying to make agreements with Washington on draft security guarantees proposed by it and red lines drawn by Russia. What is Moscow hoping for?

A.: We are seeking legally binding guarantees because our experience of Americans telling us something and us taking their word for it shows no such things should be done. The guarantees need to be legally binding, which means they should not just be signed by the president but also, from my point of view, they should be ratified by the U.S. Congress.

Q.: And the Russian parliament respectively?

A.: Of course, yes. There should be ratification. By the way, the Americans didn't ratify the JCPOA. Not that they refused, but they said that this is not mandatory under the U.S. constitution. The JCPOA didn't undergo the ratification procedure in the Congress and that is why the U.S. president could so easily withdraw from it. They have a different political system and rather peculiar legislation. Not all documents require the ratification procedure.

But if we say that security guarantee agreements should be completely legally binding, in this case, I believe that ratification would be highly desirable. That would protect the agreement from arbitrary actions of one person serving as the president by a two- or even three-key situation - both houses of the Congress plus the presidential administration.

Q.: Top NATO officials proposed to hold a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on January 12. If the meeting takes place, should progress in dialogue on Russia's proposals regarding security guarantees be expected?

A.: Firstly, if you follow the logic of our actions, we see the United States as our primary counterparty in discussing these matters. It's obvious.

Secondly, what are the underlying principles of the NATO-Russia Council? Each country is present there in a national capacity. There is nothing in those principles that there is Russia on one hand and the 30 NATO member states and its secretary general on the other, who speaks on their behalf, referring to trans-Atlantic solidarity. In my opinion, such a format is a road to nowhere.

We know, we are told that NATO, the West let me put it this way, has different opinions of the Russian initiatives. Different countries there think differently. You should note that there has still been no consolidated response from the West. The Americans have been saying something, but there is no consolidated position of NATO or the European Union, because there are different points of view there.

Certainly, we would be interested in sitting down at the same table with countries that speak on behalf of their citizens and that are in different situations from the standpoint of ensuring their security, depending on their geographic location, size, and military power. And provided that each of them starts discussing our problems based on the interests of their own countries rather than based on the interests of trans-Atlantic solidarity.

If such a conversation takes place, which complies with the spirit and letter of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, then this dialogue would have prospects. But I doubt that for some reason, because whenever we tried to use the NATO-Russia Council mechanism before, we always ran up against the same wall, from behind which, say, the NATO secretary general came and said, 'But we think so and so'. Then individual countries have approached us and said, 'Of course, we thought differently, but we don't want to remain alone and go against the mainstream, and we were asked to keep silent'. And this devalues the dialogue and makes it senseless.

Q.: Do you consider Russia's security guarantees proposals as realistic? Could they be adjusted?

A.: If all countries equally addressed the task of building security systems as a collective task, then of course our proposals are absolutely realistic. But when we are told that 'we will ensure our security predominantly without paying any attention to your concerns' then our concerns are from their point of view somewhere beyond the reality. From our point of view they are the only realistic ones.

For example, there is a passenger airliner. Someone buys a first-class ticket paying for comfort, some prefer business-class and some economy-class. But if there is a bomb in the luggage section, it doesn’t matter who flies what class. But the illusion of our opponents in NATO is that they can ensure security by privileged means. This isn't so! Security faces threats of a totally different nature. They are not military. It's not about the number of tanks near this or that border. It's about organized crime, drug trafficking, migrants, climate, and cybersecurity. NATO is not geared towards addressing any of these threats. Threats are accumulating and NATO carries on flying first class. We are very concerned because we know that bombs are ticking and they are totally different.

Our proposals are worded as specifically as possible, they are integral and absolutely workable. There should be no attempts to add anything to our proposals, instead, they should be reviewed point by point and the stances of the sides should be clarified.

Q.: Do you think that the current situation in Russia-U.S. relations be called the Second Cuban Missile Crisis?

A.: In my view, not yet. We aren't threatening each other directly but are talking about declaring certain plans on a reciprocal basis, which could be put into practice in certain circumstances. This is a somewhat different story, but in terms of its severity, I would rank what's happening now second after the Cuban Missile Crisis in the history of our international relations in the postwar period.

Q.: There is a new government in Germany. What are Moscow's expectations of the new chancellor, including on the Nord Stream 2 project? Its certification is being dragged out. How big is the chance that the pipeline will be approved and launched in 2022?

A.: The campaign at demonizing Russia in this area must stop. Please note how Western media and, unfortunately, some of our media outlets have presented the news about the halting of gas transportation from Russia to Europe: once again, Gazprom does not book transportation capacities. In fact, it is obvious that buyers are not ordering this gas because it's now being sold at a different price - not the one stipulated by contract, but the spot price. It would be fair of mass media to write that Ruhrgas AG, or someone else, did not book gas supply from Russia for today. I have no doubt that if anyone told us they wanted to buy a consignment of our gas, of course, we would immediately book the gas pipeline and would make the shipment. But there’s no sign of this. They are elaborating on the theory that Gazprom has partially closed the valve to expedite certification of Nord Stream 2. This is a lie and utter but deliberate silliness.

There is no point in keeping the gas pipeline empty. Same as consumers, we want the pipeline to carry gas. We want to make money, just like any other party to such deals.

I am sure that everything will work out if and when we are treated as an economic partner, rather than a party that must be discredited as much as possible yet again.

Germany behaved quite responsibly under the former leadership. Truth be told, I am surprised at how Mrs. Merkel acted and how she withstood the pressure from her European neighbors and, probably, the United States. Will the incumbent leaders of Germany demonstrate the same political courage and nerve? Ah, well, I do not know that. It is too early to say. Let's hope that the new German leadership will have as little room for maneuver as Mrs. Merkel did. After all, she was not driven by her liking of Russia, she was driven by the pragmatic interest of Germany and the strongest demand from German business. This demand persists. We can only believe that the new German leadership will listen to it.

Q.: The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed a protest to Japan over an exhibition dedicated to South Kuril Islands in Tokyo in the context of Japan's claims to them. How could this situation affect the Moscow-Tokyo dialogue on the signing of a peace treaty?

A.: Any provocations, any blackmail, any categorical approach in this issue makes it more difficult for us to reach any theoretical compromise. That's for sure. Everything is stated in previous agreements. A peace treaty comes first. It's not a 'by-default' part of the territorial issue.

A peace treaty is recognition of the results of war. If and when we sign this peace treaty, any other consultations and discussion could then gain some sense of purpose. But it will happen only after that. And consultations that have been ongoing in recent years at the level of deputy foreign ministers are not about the islands. Rather, they deal with a peace treaty, if one takes a close look at the negotiators' mandate.

Exhibitions like this one, any other such festivities and statements that get the sides to discuss the territorial issue certainly block any progress in this situation. There is not even the slightest doubt about that.

Q.: Various countries have been saying in recent years that a reform of the UN Security Council and a change in the composition of its permanent members is needed. What is your position?

A.: If and when a solution that would suit everyone is found, everything is possible. But there’s no sign of this right now. There is not even an agreement on what countries could become additional members of the UN Security Council as permanent members, or on the future of the veto right. Everything could be discussed, but nothing could be implemented until we are sure that the future configuration will be more effective than, or at least as stable as the current one. That is why in my opinion this issue is off the agenda today.