Russia-NATO Update is a new monthly review by the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project, covering the latest news on Russia-NATO relations from the Russian and East European media.
Putin At The SPIEF Questions The Very Necessity Of NATO
On June 17, 2016, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin addressed the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). The plenary session was followed by Q&As, moderated by CNN host Fareed Zakaria. Putin also met with the heads of major international news agencies to discuss the Western ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe and other topics. In the Q&As, Putin said that he does not believe that “we are moving towards another Cold War”, but if we continue redoubling efforts to scare each other “then one day it will come to a Cold War.” In another reply to Zakharia, Putin assailed Western support for what he termed “the Ukrainian coup”, that deposed the pro-Russian government in Kyiv, an action that he claimed plunged the country into civil war and intimidated the Russian-speaking population of southeastern Ukraine and Crimea. Putin believes that the West is taking all these actions against Russia to justify NATO’s existence: “They need an external adversary, an external enemy – otherwise why is this organization necessary in the first place? There is no Warsaw Pact, no Soviet Union – who is it directed against? If we continue to act according to this logic, escalating [tensions] and redoubling efforts to scare each other, then one day it will come to a cold war. Our logic is totally different. It is focused on cooperation and the search for compromise.”
(See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6489, Two Weeks To NATO’s Warsaw Summit, Putin At The SPIEF Questions The Very Necessity Of NATO Now That Warsaw Pact And Soviet Union Are Gone; ‘One Day It Will Come To A Cold War’, June 23, 2016)
Lavrov At The SPIEF
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed Russia-NATO relations at the Valdai International Discussion Club’s session “Russia and the EU: What follows the “strategic partnership” that never happened?” at the SPIEF. In his speech, Lavrov argued that the U.S. is interfering in the Russia-EU relations and at the same time is patching up NATO’s solidarity. Lavrov said: “We had several discussions on energy cooperation with the EU… [However,] the EU-adopted energy doctrinal documents are directly aimed at reducing dependence on Russia. We understand that a large amount of instructions on curtailing cooperation with Russia are generated from overseas. The Americans have their own economic interests. It seems that the logic of ‘zero sum games’ and demands of taking sides – ‘Are you with us or with them?’ – that were addressed practically to all post-Soviet states eventually led to the crisis that broke out in Ukraine. We are witnessing an attempt to use this situation to put economic pressure on us in Europe and at the same time to patch up NATO’s solidarity that simply cannot live on in the absence of a common enemy.”
Lavrov then added: “The most important thing is to abandon the lamentable ‘zero sum game’ and try to rely on one’s own national interests, not on the contrived principles of consensus and solidarity, lurking behind which is, essentially, the possibility of blackmail on the part of the Russophobic minority. Let’s call a spade a spade. As a result, countries that want to sever Russia’s relations with the West for purely political reasons are simply forcing the EU and NATO to start from the lowest common denominator.”
(Mid.ru, June 16, 2016)
NATO Activity In The Baltic Region
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that NATO’s activity on Russia’s doorstep significantly increased. Shoigu said: “Now, NATO and the US have deployed about 1,200 pieces of military equipment, including 30 combat jets, as well as more than 1,000 soldiers on the territories of the Eastern European countries on a rotational basis. The US navy ships as well as military vessels of other NATO members regularly enter the Baltic and Black Seas.” He then added: “Such moves of our western colleagues lead to erosion of the strategic stability in Europe and force us to take counter measures, primarily in the western theater of operations.”
(Rt.com, June 29, 2016)
In an interview with Rossiya 1, aired on June 18 at the sidelines of the SPIEF, the head of the Presidential Staff and former minister of defense Sergey Ivanov said that the Baltic States needed to portray Russia as an enemy, in order to generate new jobs for themselves via NATO’s military deployment. Ivanov said: “The economic situation in the Baltic states – let’s put it gently – is not good…Everyone is ready to work as nurses, babysitters, plumbers in the more successful EU countries. People left [the Baltic States to live] there [in other EU countries]. So, what should be done?… Shout out loudly about the imminent aggression by the mean Russia, which dreams of enslaving the Baltic states… And what does it mean to deploy even one battalion or a brigade, located in a new place? It means hundreds of new jobs. It means additional incomes. It’s an economic advantage. We have to admit that. Any [NATO] military deployment – it’s a net income for those territories or countries where foreign troops are located. So they hit two targets simultaneously…”
(Rossiya 1, June 18)
On June 6, the NATO “Anaconda -16” military drills began in Poland. “Anaconda-16,” the largest military drill held in Eastern Europe since the cold war, will last 10 days and will involve 31,000 troops. Other NATO drills “BALTOPS 2016” (June 3-19) and “Saber Strike” (May 27-June 22), a long-standing U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise, are taking place simultaneously in the Baltic region.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reacted to the NATO military drills near the Russian border, during a joint news conference with Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini in Moscow. Lavrov said: “We have focused on security issues in the Baltic Sea area.We are convinced that there are no threats in this region to justify its militarization. [emphasis added] We shared our concerns about increased NATO activities in the region, and NATO moving its infrastructure closer to our borders. We are convinced that all issues of cooperation in the Baltic Sea and the North in general can and should be resolved within the framework of existing multilateral formats in the Baltic Sea region, the Barents/Euro-Arctic Region, and the Arctic [emphasis added]… I can add that we have reaffirmed our belief that each country has a sovereign right to choose a security policy it considers appropriate. At the same time, we make no secret of our negative attitude to the NATO policy of moving its military infrastructure closer to our border and involving other states in its military activities [emphasis added]. In this context, Russia has a sovereign right to use such methods to protect its security as appear to be adequate to the existing risks. I am convinced that our Finnish friends and neighbors are aware of this.”
(Mid.ru, June 6)
Discussing the NATO drill in the Baltic region, Russia’s Ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko told the Rossiya 24 TV channel: “What we are seeing today in the Baltic States, as a matter of fact, is nothing [other] than attempts towards force development [in line] with the recent hostile policy pursued by NATO [emphasis added]. I would not say that it is a direct threat for Russia, but nevertheless, it obviously creates serious risks as we see an absolutely new military reality forming along our border.” He then added that NATO’s military activity “is profoundly changing the military situation in the region,” and warned that “Russia, as is known, can ensure its security very efficiently.”
In the interview, Grushko also mentioned that Russia has no plans to attack Poland: “Recently the [NATO] secretary general visited Poland, and during these visits the Polish side was making statements that now Russia knows that an attack against Poland is an attack against NATO, which is completely absurd, as they are discussing a problem that does not exist…There are no plans to attack Poland.” [emphasis added] He then added that “the [NATO] policy lives in a surrealistic reality, and the most dangerous thing is that it now starts taking the form of military planning and military preparations carried out on territories along our borders,” Grushko said.
(Tass.ru, June 6: See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6472, Three Weeks To The NATO Summit in Warsaw, Russian Permanent Representative To NATO Grushko: NATO’s Policy Lives In A Surrealistic Reality: ‘A Russian Threat Is Simply A Myth,’ June 14, 2016)
First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee Franz Klincevich said that NATO is preparing a “global strike” on Russia. Klincevich said: “NATO is starting to use our old military bases in the Baltics, Romania, Poland, and sending personnel there… Of course, we will retarget [Russia’s military means], move forward [Russia’s forces] taking into consideration NATO’s activity [in the proximity of our borders].”
(Rbc.ru, June 5)
Russian ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko discussed NATO’s intensified activity in the Baltic Sea region to business news radio Kommersant FM: “A decision to deploy (NATO’s) extra battalions changes the regional situation in the sphere of security qualitatively…Today this situation is acquiring new parameters and it’ll surely require not only a political response but also the appropriate military precautions… [The Russian military] will monitor most attentively what means may prove necessary to neutralize the risks…It’s all too obvious that measures will be taken and our partners at the Russia-NATO Council shouldn’t get surprised over it.”
(Tass.ru, June 3)
The Black Sea
Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO Alexander Grushko said: “Today, NATO is trying to replicate its confrontational schemes on the Black Sea. Recently, Turkish President Erdogan said that the Black Sea was becoming a ‘Russian lake’ should be avoided at all costs. However, NATO officials are well aware that the Black Sea will never become a ‘NATO lake’ either [emphasis added], and we will take all necessary measures to neutralize possible threats and attempts to play power politics with Russia in the south.”
(Interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Mid.ru, May 31)
Russia is closely watching U.S. activity in the Black Sea. The Dumas Defense Committee’s deputy chair, Sergey Zhigarev, said that Moscow can strengthen its Black Sea flotilla. He also said that Russia will monitor whether the U.S. ships are adhering to agreements specifying the duration which foreign vessels can be stationed in the Black Sea. (Tass.ru, June 10, 2016)
Russian Officials Mock The “Russian Threat” To NATO
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov previewed what the Russian dailyIzvestia termed an “ironic scenario”, in describing a NATO performance against the “evil empire”, to be staged on the eve of NATO’s July 8 Warsaw summit.. Konashenkov said that Western actions and statements resemble a planned performance. In the first act of the performance sets the stage with alarmist non-official statements about the need to defend a member state of NATO against an external threat. “Look, [it seems that NATO] is a cornered harmless sheep, facing all kind of predators such as Russia and other countries which are not controlled by the U.S.”
In the second act of the performance, retired Cold War figures such as former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ash or former NATO commander in Europe Wesley Clark emerge from the “crypt.” In this second act, the Cold War figures mouth paranoid slogans on the revival of the Evil Empire. In the final act, NATO’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg appears on the scene to announce that rumors about NATO’s inability to defend itself are baseless, but “one more effort” by the taxpayers is necessary. At the grand finale, of the NATO Warsaw summit, NATO will announce that the Russian threat has been “neutralized,” NATO’s military budget has swelled and the good life of NATO’s bureaucracy has again been defended from taxpayer queries. “Finita la commedia!” concludes Konashenkov.
(Izvestia.ru, June 6; Kp.ru, June 6)
Russia’s Ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko told the Rossiya 24 TV channel that the Russian threat to NATO “is simply a myth, which allows NATO to pursue its chosen policy, and at the same time solve other tasks of a strategic nature.” He added that “NATO is seen as an additional band for repairing Western unity…If we take a look at regional balances, NATO is playing at some murky game, as if the NATO countries themselves are states without an army, without anything [and therefore are not factored into the balance]…”
(Tass.ru, June 6)
Missile Defense System
The president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, Konstantin Sivkov, said that: “The missile defense system provides a shield of specific regions according to the missile defense agreement, previously signed with the U.S. Russia is not breaching this agreement, while the U.S.is. Currently, we contemplate deploying this system in previously agreed regions, but in the future – everything depends on how the situation will unfold”. The expert did not rule out the possibility of deploying the system on naval combat ships, resembling the Aegis system.
(Ria.ru, June 21, 2016)
The Russian president’s special representative for international cooperation on cyber security Andrey Krutskikh criticized NATO’s failure to discuss cyber security with Russia. Krutskikh said that NATO should not be ‘bullying’ Russia, but should build constructive relations and solve problems by dialogue. According to Krutskikh, by refraining from such a dialogue, NATO is trying to build ‘cyber-muscles’. He then added: “If you [i.e. NATO] build a relation in such a way, then don’t get offended, because we will take retaliatory measures. It’s clear that Moscow won’t leave any aggressive acts by NATO without an appropriate response”.
(Ria.ru, June 20)
Russian Submarine Heading For English Channel Intercepted By British Royal Navy As Part Of NATO’s Maritime Monitoring
The British Royal Navy intercepted a Russian Kilo-class submarine as it cruised towards the English Channel. The Russian vessel was soon after escorted by HMS Kent. The Russian Defense Minister released the following statement: “The Russian Defense Ministry is surprised that the British Royal Navy and its NATO allies had to take joint efforts to discover a submarine, which was moving on the surface at a slow-speed…It would be strange if the sub had gone unnoticed by the British Royal Navy and its NATO allies. especially as the merchant ships of various countries, which were [sailing] on head-on and parallel courses, stuck to the long-standing maritime tradition of welcoming our sailors in the Barents, Norwegian and North Seas during the several days of the [submarine’s] journey.”
(Tass.ru, June 8)
Interview Of The Month
On June 14, Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov told Bloomberg that the U.S. and eastern European countries are trying to make irreversible the EU policy of Russia’s containment. Syromolotov said: “Unlike our Western colleagues, we do not like to encourage alarmist sentiments. At the same time, we certainly cannot disregard the negative trends in European security that are being spurred at the instigation of NATO. We have to necessarily take additional measures to build up our defenses due to the unprecedented scale of NATO’s military preparations on the Russian border, with heavy U.S. weapons rolling across neighboring countries, old military infrastructure is being rapidly modernized and new one built, and numerous military exercises are held to repel the alleged ‘threats from the east.’
“NATO regularly tells us that its actions are properly calibrated and proportionate. It even claims that the ongoing construction of the U.S./NATO ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Europe is not spearheaded against Russia.
“Overall, NATO’s actions, which are presented to the Western public as exclusively defensive, are rapidly changing the military and political landscape in Europe. These actions are undermining the existing balance of forces and ultimately weakening, rather than strengthening, the security of the NATO member states [emphasis added].
“Some of our European partners are fully aware of the absurdity and destructive consequences of the deadlock created by the alliance in its relations with Russia. But, guided by notorious allied solidarity, they continue to follow the policies of the NATO countries that border Russia and their overseas sponsors, who are trying to make the bloc’s policy of containing Russia irreversible.”
(Mid.ru, June 14)
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