NATO Deputy Secretary General ALEXANDER VERSHBOU visited Moscow. In an interview with Kommersant correspondent ELENA CHERNENKO, he told what new opportunities are opening up for the Russian Federation and the alliance after the United States abandons the fourth phase of missile defense deployment and what agreements can be adopted at the upcoming meeting of the Russia-NATO Council.
- What are the results of your trip to Moscow? After all, you came here to meet the former ambassadors of the Russian Federation and the United States, but also met with representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Defense and the Presidential Administration.
- Yes, I did arrive on the occasion of a conference of former ambassadors. But he took the opportunity to discuss relations with Russia and NATO with officials. At the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Defense and the Presidential Administration, we talked about how to deepen cooperation on Afghanistan - I believe that now this area of our relations is the most productive, along with a number of successful joint projects to combat terrorism and piracy.
But what was especially important for me was that we discussed new opportunities for cooperation in the field of missile defense, which may open after the recent US declaration on missile defense.
I want to emphasize, however, that even before this statement, the facts indicated that the NATO missile defense system does not pose a threat to Russia's strategic forces. But now in this question there can definitely be no different interpretations. Therefore, we hope that in the coming months, the dialogue in this area will be activated, and we will be able to start building a joint missile defense system that would protect both NATO and Russia.
- Joint, but not one, as Moscow had previously proposed?
- We are talking about a high degree of integration of the two systems and command structures that work separately from each other. NATO is responsible for the protection of its territory, and Russia - for its defense. NATO cannot transfer these functions to anyone else, and I do not think that Russia is ready to outsource the defense of its territory. However, there is potential for the integration of the two systems. We propose the creation of two centers that would allow NATO and Russia to exchange information around the clock, including intelligence, to carry out joint planning and coordinate operations. We plan to talk about this with our Russian colleagues in the coming months.
- I still do not quite understand one aspect of the statement by Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel: is the fourth phase of the creation of the European segment of the US-NATO missile defense system canceled or postponed?
- This is a key question. And the answer is: it is canceled. Interceptors that should have been deployed during this phase - namely, SM 3 BlockII B - will no longer be developed.
- At all?
- At all. The savings will be directed to other aspects of the program, in particular, to improving the accuracy parameters of other interceptors (deployed in earlier phases. - “K”), but SM 3 BlockII B will not be created.
- But everything else remains?
- Yes, the first three phases will be deployed as planned. The second phase, I recall, implies the deployment of missile defense elements in Romania, and the third - in Poland. These plans are valid. But the most modern interceptor, which will appear in Poland, and possibly in Romania, will be SM 3 BlockII A. It can intercept short-range and medium-range missiles that can fly, say, to the UK, Norway or even Iceland, but not intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The United States has decided to protect its territory with systems located in their own territory.
- At a conference of the Russian Defense Ministry in May last year, the Russian military tried to convince you that the interceptors deployed during the third phase may have limited intercept capability for ICBMs. Apparently, they did not convince you.
- No, not convinced. And with the cancellation of the fourth phase of the deployment of the missile defense system, the Russian arguments presented at that conference completely lose ground. However, for the time being my Russian interlocutors have told me that they have few statements in the media or even explanations from the NATO deputy secretary general and they need to discuss this topic in more detail with technical experts (laughs).
- Do I understand correctly that with the abandonment of the fourth phase in Europe, there are no elements of an American missile defense system capable of protecting the United States from an accidental launch from Russia at an early stage?
- Even the fourth phase was incapable of that. The trajectory of the Russian ICBM, aimed at the United States, even with a random launch would be beyond the reach of the NATO system. She would pass close, yes. But even the SM 3 BlockII B interceptors, if they were deployed, would always be a bit late, chasing only “behind the tail” of the Russian ICBM. And then do not forget: Russian ICBMs are located not only in the European, but also in the central part of the country and in the Far East. Most of these ICBMs do not even come close to the NATO missile defense system. In other words: we have previously considered Russian concerns groundless. And now in Europe there will be no such potential at all - only in the USA.
- Russia, however, is worried about the fact that the elements of the missile defense system, which are planned to be deployed in Europe in the first three phases of the system, are highly mobile, first of all it is about sea-based systems. Can interceptors equipped with Aegis ships appear in the waters of the Baltic and North Seas, as Moscow fears?
- Marine systems will not be equipped with interceptors more advanced than SM 3 BlockII A. Thus, they are subject to technical restrictions on intercepting ICBMs passing along a much higher trajectory than missiles designed to intercept short-range and medium-range missiles. In addition, NATO naval systems will be deployed primarily in the Mediterranean Sea - to protect the south-western part of Europe (Spain, Portugal, and so on). Of course, NATO ships may have different missions, they may be involved in other regions, if it is necessary there, for example, to protect communications by sea. But once again I want to emphasize: their technical ability to intercept ICBMs will be very limited, if not zero.
- Was the skeptic reaction of Russia to the statements of Chuck Hagel surprised you?
- No, not at all surprised. I think that after all the discussions, accusations and counter accusations in this area, it will take some time to strengthen mutual trust in any case. Therefore, we are talking about the need to intensify the dialogue both at the political and at the technical level.
- You said that the US statement opens up new opportunities for Russia and NATO. Did you mean only missile defense?
- The positive effects of this statement may be broader. Russia made it clear that further reductions in nuclear arsenals are directly related to breaking the impasse on missile defense. Accordingly, we hope that the recent US declaration on missile defense will allow us to achieve progress in this area and thus open the way to negotiations on further reduction of nuclear weapons - strategic and non-strategic. The subject of missile defense was indeed the most controversial and difficult in our relations. We hope that now relations in general will become better and we will be able to develop a truly strategic partnership, and not only on paper.
- This topic will be discussed at the upcoming meeting of the Russia-NATO Council (NRC) at the level of foreign ministers?
- Yes, it will be held on 23 on April, and I believe that, along with the Afghan theme, the issue of missile defense in the light of a recent statement by the United States will be one of the key issues on the meeting.
- As reported by “Kommersant”, at the last meeting of the NRC in December, the initiative of Germany and Poland to create a common area of trust between Russia and NATO was discussed. Is this project still relevant?
- It is still relevant. Moreover, now several more countries have subscribed to it, in addition to Germany and Poland. Only seven or eight countries, including Russia. It is about greater transparency with regard to military exercises, the exchange of information, including analytical information, on the results of the exercises. That is, it is not only about greater transparency of potentials, but also strategies. Not sure, however, that this project will be finalized by the next meeting of the NRC, but negotiations are continuing.
- “Kommersant” also wrote about the idea to increase the trust fund for the maintenance of Russian helicopters purchased by the United States for the needs of the Afghan military forces. Have a solution on this?
- Discussion of this idea was successful. And I believe that such a decision can be approved and announced at the ministerial meeting in April. We are talking about expanding cooperation in the framework of the trust fund by including in it, in addition to spare parts and training Afghan technicians for servicing Mi-17 helicopters, also Mi-35 (export version of Russian Mi-24.- “Kommersant”) that are in service Afghan forces. This is a very positive example of practical cooperation between Russia and NATO, from which not only these parties benefit, but also the Afghan national forces dependent on Russian technology.
- And how much will the trust fund grow? If I understand correctly, in the first phase of the project it was $ 20 million.
- Each of the two phases of the project will cost more than $ 20 million (including financial and other contributions).
- And what happens around the transit center in Ulyanovsk? As far as I know, there was only one test flight with a NATO cargo from Afghanistan. When will this transit route work in full?
“Everything is agreed there, licensed and ready for use not only by the NATO countries, but also by all other ISAF participants who wish to import cargo into and out of Afghanistan. The point is commercial aspects. NATO countries are exploring alternative financial networks that are financially more profitable. So, for example, transit routes through Pakistan, which were closed some time ago, are now fully open again, and this is the cheapest way.
- Russian offer less profitable?
- It is more expensive. And the NATO states are looking for a better deal for less money. It’s about a very large amount of cargo - tens of thousands of containers. Accordingly, prices must be competitive, this is a business.
- Recently, the Russian side declared its readiness to use one of its ports in its transport network.
- In the Baltic Sea, yes. This is one of the options discussed, but even here everything will depend on how commercially profitable this is compared to other available ways. If Russia makes a good offer, it can achieve its stake in this business (laughs).
- In the autumn, “Kommersant” also reported that Russia and NATO are preparing an agreement on cooperation on the disposal of obsolete ammunition and weapons. At what stage are the negotiations in this area?
- Now this topic is being discussed by experts from both sides. We are talking about the demilitarization, disposal of obsolete ammunition, which pose a risk to both people and the environment. So far I can not say when we will come to a specific agreement in this area. First you need to solve a few technical and political issues. But I got the impression that both parties are interested in such cooperation. We expect that this will be another area of successful practical cooperation, and the exchange of experience and technology will bring concrete benefits to the citizens of the Russian Federation.
- Is there potential for cooperation with Russia in the framework of the reform of NATO forces launched last year under the slogan Smart Defense? In Moscow, as far as I know, they hope that the NATO countries will, within the framework of this initiative (aimed, among other things, at cost savings), acquire the Russian military equipment, for example, Mi-26 helicopters.
“We are still working on our plans and internal procedures.” But at the NATO summit in Chicago, a political decision was made that this initiative should be open to the participation of partner countries. Russia is a very important partner of NATO. The forms of cooperation with it may be different, but first we need to resolve some procedural issues within the alliance.
- Within the framework of Smart Defense, NATO will also carry out projects in the field of cyber security. As Kommersant recently reported, Russia has offered cooperation to the alliance in this area. The proposal included a joint threat analysis, exchange of experience in protecting critical infrastructure facilities and an assessment of the likelihood of cyber weapons in the hands of terrorists. But NATO refused. Why?
- For two reasons. First, NATO itself is only at the early stage of developing its own responses to cyber threats. So far we have only agreed that the key task should be to increase the security of our computer networks and systems. And secondly, we still do not understand how in this area to interact with countries that are not members of the alliance and do not have access to our information, this is a sensitive issue.
It will take time to look for a platform for dialogue between Russia and NATO in this area. But there are indeed many threats in cyberspace. The same Russian hackers are considered among the most advanced (laughs). This is a complex topic. At the same time, our states and economies face the same risks. I believe that someday we will be able to jointly discuss these threats, although we will most likely be responding to them separately.