1 Jul 2016

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Ball is in Russia’s court in returning to partnership with NATO

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has given an interview to Interfax‘s correspondent Alexander Korzun ahead of the alliance‘s summit in Warsaw due on July 8-9 in which he speaks about place of the Russian topic on the summit‘s agenda and Russia-NATO relations in general.

Question: Mr. Secretary General, what place will Russia have on the Warsaw Summit‘s agenda? The European Union links the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements. Does NATO link the resumption of practical cooperation with Russia to anything? What is your vision of the perspective of relations between NATO and Russia? It is hard to believe that NATO is not planning to have such relations in the future at all.

Answer: The international community introduced sanctions as a result of Russia‘s aggressive actions in Ukraine. The sanctions are important to show that the Kremlin’s choices have costs. They send a clear message: Russia will remain isolated if it continues to undermine the peaceful order in Europe. This is Russia‘s choice. Russia continues to destabilize eastern Ukraine by supporting the separatists with troops, arms and heavy weapons. Russia also refuses to reverse its illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, which allies do not and will not recognize.
NATO decided to suspend practical cooperation with Russia in the spring of 2014 after Russia‘s illegal annexation of Crimea. Our practical cooperation with Russia remains suspended, but channels of communication remain open. Especially when tensions are high as they are now, it is important that we continue to use the channels for political dialog and for military contacts, in particular to avoid incidents. We continue to call on Russia to use the channels of communication that we have constructively. The NATO-Russia Council is part of political dialog, and we are ready to convene a new meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in the near future. We are consulting with Russia on possible dates and on the agenda of the meeting.
Allies made clear at the Wales Summit in 2014 that a partnership between NATO and Russia based on respect for international law would be of strategic value. However, the conditions for that relationship do not exist. The alliance‘s relations with Russia depend on a clear, constructive change in Russia‘s actions, which demonstrates compliance with international law and with its international obligations and responsibilities. So the ball is in Russia’s court.

Q.: Russia sees decisions due to be made at the Warsaw Summit in regard to further enhancement of the military presence on NATO’s eastern flank and the missile defense bases in Romania and Poland as a direct threat to its security, which will require military-technical counter-measures. This logic of Moscow is understandable. What is in store for us: an escalation of the military standoff, an arms race, a Cold War? Are Russia and NATO doomed to further confrontation?

A.: NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia and we do not want a new Cold War. The Cold War is history, and it should stay history.
NATO ballistic missile defense is not directed against Russia and will not undermine Russia‘s strategic deterrence capabilities. Romania and Poland offer optimal locations for interceptors to defend NATO countries in Europe against threats fr om outside the Euro-Atlantic region, especially from the Middle East. Geography and physics make it impossible for the NATO system to shoot down Russian intercontinental missiles from ballistic missile defense sites located in Romania or Poland. The missile launchers at the Romanian and Polish sites will not be used for any purposes other than missile defense. And they will not host any offensive missiles. In addition, the interceptor missiles in Romania and in Poland are not and will not be armed with explosive warheads. Russia knows this very well. In fact at our 2012 summit in Chicago we offered transparency measures and the chance to work together on missile defense. However, Russia refused. The Russian threats to target allies because of their support for NATO‘s ballistic missile defense system are unacceptable, unjustified and irresponsible. I call on Russian officials to adopt a pragmatic approach and to restore predictability in our relations.
Before Russia started its aggressive actions against Ukraine, the question of an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of the alliance was not on the table. Russia‘s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea and actions to destabilize eastern Ukraine had a significant destabilizing impact on the security of the Euro-Atlantic area. NATO is a collective defense organization and has a responsibility to ensure we are prepared to defend all allies. That is the reason why we implemented the biggest reinforcement to our collective defense since the end of the Cold War. We will continue to protect and defend all allies against any threats coming from any direction. At the summit in Warsaw we will take new decisions to strengthen our defense and deterrence. All our measures are proportionate, defensive and in line with our international obligations. This is in stark contrast to Russia’s continuing violation of international law.

Q.: What is your vision of the future of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in this context? Is there a need for additional confidence building measures, transparency and self-control in the military field? Can we speak about any steps in this area under the current circumstances at all? What is the future of the communication line between NATO and Russian servicemen; is it functioning, is it being used?

A.: NATO is committed to adhering to the NATO-Russia Founding Act. We are increasing our military presence in the eastern part of our alliance in response to Russia‘s aggressive actions against Ukraine. All our measures are defensive, proportionate and in line with our international commitments, including the Founding Act. The NATO-Russia Founding Act explicitly allows infrastructure to support reinforcements.
Russia’s increased military activity, frequent and large scale snap exercises close to NATO‘s eastern borders and Russia‘s aggressive rhetoric are destabilizing. While we speak about deploying four battalions to the eastern parts of the alliance, Russia conducts snap exercises with tens of thousands of troops and without notification. While NATO invites Russian observers to all its exercises, Russia conducts snap exercises without international observers. Russia‘s snap exercises were used as a cover to annex Crimea, and to build up forces near eastern Ukraine. This is why it is so important to improve reciprocal military transparency and risk reduction. In April this year we had an open and frank discussion in the NATO-Russia Council about risk reduction. This was a first step and we need to do more.
We also want to see real efforts to reach agreement this year on a modernization of the OSCE‘s Vienna Document, which was endorsed by Russia. This is an important tool designed to increase openness and transparency on military activities, including with regard to the observation of exercises. I also urge Russia to make use of military channels of communication with NATO. This is vital to ensure that we can communicate at short notice, and to avoid misunderstandings and unintended escalation. We have a responsibility to our populations to do everything possible to avoid incidents.

Q.: NATO has announced the suspension of practical cooperation with Russia. Was it expedient to stop the interaction in the fight against terrorism threatening both sides? Russia and NATO have common interests in Afghanistan, too.

A.: Terrorism is a global threat which also affects Russia. This is one of the areas wh ere for many years we had good cooperation with Russia. For instance, we worked together on areas such as preventing the hijacking of planes, and on detecting and defending against suicide bombers.
Clearly, a stable and secure Afghanistan is in all our interests. However, as a result of Russia‘s aggressive actions against Ukraine there can be no ‘business as usual‘ and we decided to suspend our practical cooperation with Russia. Yes, we are confronted with regional and global challenges in Afghanistan which affect both NATO and Russia alike, such as the illegal narcotics trade. But while our practical cooperation with Russia has been suspended, we are cooperating with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to build capacity against the illegal narcotics trade. So NATO is still working on vital security issues with key international players, even while our practical cooperation with Russia has been suspended.
Our message is clear: we continue to call on Russia to return to compliance with international law and behave as a responsible international actor. Our practical cooperation remains suspended. And we continue to use our channels of communication with Russia, including the NATO-Russia Council. During our meeting of the NRC in April we had an exchange of views also on Afghanistan.

Q.: Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have expressed their readiness for a substantive dialog with the United States and NATO on countering the ISIL terrorist group in Afghanistan. Would it not be easier for NATO to resume coordination and interaction with Russia amid the escalating tensions in Afghanistan and the intensified activity of ISIL, in order to prevent further destabilization of the country?

A.: All NATO allies are contributing to the efforts of the U.S.-led global coalition to counter ISIL and we are helping partner countries that are on the frontline of the fight against terrorism, including Afghanistan. I am aware of reports about ISIL‘s activities in Afghanistan. We are not complacent and we remain vigilant. Terrorism poses a common threat to the people of all states in the region. Significant challenges remain in Afghanistan and we never expected them to disappear overnight. But the Afghan security forces and institutions are dedicated and courageous and they continue to adapt to the challenges and we continue to support them. They have repeatedly proven that they are capable to carry out their responsibilities and they have shown that they can deal effectively with terrorist attacks. Furthermore, they are developing their own air capabilities and procuring new aircraft; they are also implementing measures to increase the accountability of their leaders.
Our commitment to Afghanistan is steadfast. We continue to support the Afghan security forces and institutions through our non-combat Resolute Support Mission of train, advise, and assist. We have already decided that we will sustain our Resolute Support Mission into next year, through what we call a flexible regional approach focused on Kabul and other different regions in Afghanistan
Our relations with Russia are contingent to a clear, constructive change in Russia‘s actions, which demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities. So cooperation with Russia and the CSTO is not on the table.

Q.: Russia‘s neighbor Georgia counts on the near-term prospect of entry into NATO. Will the Warsaw summit add something new to its status in relation to the alliance? What minimal and maximal timeframes for making a decision, on the admission of Georgia to NATO can be discussed, in your opinion?

A.: The most important thing is that the decisions we took at the Bucharest summit in 2008 stand. Georgia will become a NATO member provided Georgia meets the necessary requirements. Georgia has made impressive progress but there is still work to be done for Georgia’s integration in the Euro-Atlantic community. With the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package, the NATO-Georgia Commission and the Annual National Program of reforms, Georgia already has all practical tools to prepare for membership. Our summit in July will recognize the progress Georgia is making.