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May 6, 2016 No.
6416

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov To Swedish Newspaper 'Dagens Nyheter': If Sweden Joins NATO, Russia Will Take Necessary Defense Measures On Its Northern Borders; The Russophobic Minority In NATO Is Rallying The Rest Of The Member States

On April 28, 2016, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published an interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in which Lavrov stated that if Sweden joins NATO, Russia will take "the necessary defense measures on its northern borders."[1] The following day, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven termed Lavrov's comments "really unnecessary and uncalled for," adding, "We in Sweden make our own decisions about our defense and security policy. We demand respect for that, in the same way that we respect other countries' decisions about their security and defense policies."[2]

The following are excerpts from the Dagens Nyheter interview with Lavrov, as published in English on Russian Foreign Ministry website:[3]

"When We Hear... That Russia Has Been Carrying Out Dangerous Maneuvers Near NATO Borders... I Think That This Is... [An]Attempt To Turn The Issue On Its Head;[It Is] NATO [That] Is Getting Closer And Closer To Russia's Borders"

Q: "Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström recently said that relations between Sweden and Russia were 'chillier than ever.' What can be done to ease tensions and improve bilateral relations?"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov: "I believe both sides should adhere to their fundamental national interests. We have never abandoned this position, and we have always viewed Sweden as a good neighbor and a promising partner in various areas... [However,] Stockholm froze all contacts with us and joined the EU sanctions after Brussels, for some reason, took offense at our reaction to the armed coup in Kiev, where radical nationalists came to power and openly threatened the lives of Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine, primarily those in Crimea... At that time, Stockholm did more than join the sanctions against Russia: it suspended contacts between our parliaments and curtailed ties between our ministries and agencies even on current issues. As a result, our trade plummeted by 45 percent, if I'm not mistaken, even though it is still impressive. It is clear, however, that it is way below our bilateral potential.


Russian FM Sergei Lavrov (Source: Mid.ru, April 28, 2016)

"Our position is clear: We never take offense in the area of foreign policy, and we take in stride the reasons provided by our Swedish partners in explaining their decisions. If Ms. Wallström believes that our relations are chillier than ever, why not close the window to shut off the source of the cold-air Russophobia blowing in?"

Q: "There has been much talk in recent years about Russia's activities in the Baltics. Could you comment on the alleged presence of a Russian submarine in Swedish territorial waters?"

A: "I cannot recall any reports from Sweden confirming the presence of a Russian submarine in your territorial waters. Usually a discovery of a Russian submarine would make newspaper headlines. But when several weeks later it turns out that it had nothing to do with Russia and wasn't even a submarine, this revelation doesn't make it into the headlines.


The Baltic region

"Overall, with respect to military activities in Europe, primarily in the context of Russia-NATO relations and Sweden's neutrality, Russia is not interested in contributing to any kind of military tension or confrontation. We have had long-standing agreements with the Alliance [i.e. NATO], as well as bilateral military projects with our northern neighbors, including Sweden. In these efforts, we have always been guided by the belief in the importance of confidence building measures and transparency...   

"When we hear these days that Russia has been carrying out dangerous maneuvers near NATO borders, I think that this is merely a mean-spirited attempt to turn the issue on its head. In its expansion efforts, NATO is getting closer and closer to Russia's borders. The Alliance has already violated the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, which stipulates clearly that there should be no permanent stationing of substantial combat forces in new NATO member states. However, despite these obligations, NATO military infrastructure is inching closer and closer to Russia's borders. But when Russia takes action to ensure its security, we are told that Russia is engaging in dangerous maneuvers near NATO borders. In fact, NATO borders are getting closer to Russia, not the opposite.

"We have a saying in Russia: If you want to understand what the people surrounding you want from you, you have to start by understanding why they have surrounded you. This is what we are trying to do. The latest incident in the Baltic Sea was related to a U.S. destroyer armed with dozens of cruise missiles, navigating just a few dozen kilometers from the Russian military base in Baltiysk, which is Russian territory."

"The Point... Is Not Whether We Want To Recognize NATO As An Active Organization - Its Existence Is A Reality - But We Still Don't Like What It Is Doing"

Q: "Was this the reason for the fly-by near the destroyer by Russian fighter jets?" [4]

A: "The Russian aircraft were on a legitimate training flight in this area, which is high seas airspace. They saw a heavily armed U.S. destroyer approaching a Russian military base and decided to take a closer look. As soon as they saw who it was, with the fly-by occurring at a safe distance, they turned back and continued their flight.

"In 1972, we signed an agreement with the United States on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas.[5] Later, we proposed the signing of an additional protocol to this agreement, but the U.S. refused to do so. On April 20, Brussels hosted a Russia-NATO Council meeting. Russia's Permanent Representative to NATO, Alexander Grushko, raised this issue during the meeting.[6] It was an uneasy moment for the American side, because they were not even aware of it.

"The point at issue is not whether we want to recognize NATO as an active organization. Its existence is a reality. But we still don't like what it is doing. We believe that its attempt to reaffirm the reason for its existence during its operations in Afghanistan has made Afghanistan a much more dangerous country than it was before the Alliance dispatched its troops there. NATO is now planning a new mission. We asked our colleagues during a recent Russia-NATO Council meeting about the significance of its new mission and its achievements during the previous mission, because it was conducted in close proximity to our borders and directly concerned the interests of our neighbors in Central Asia, who are our allies. The growing threat in Afghanistan, including the appearance of thousands of ISIS terrorists there, and especially in the north of the country, directly affects our fundamental interests.

"As I said, NATO is a reality, and we are a willing participant for any dialogue with the Alliance. We once had a comprehensive and multifaceted action plan on many issues, including our current priority - counterterrorism. Dozens of drills and joint command post exercises on land, sea, and in the air were planned to enhance the efficiency of the joint fight against terrorism and extremism. All of this stopped for purely ideological reasons, including the training of security personnel for Afghanistan and the delivery of combat helicopters, which Afghanistan wanted to be Russian-made.

"Here are two facts about the response we had to make. First, the Russia-NATO Founding Act of 1997 stipulates that the Russia-NATO Council will respect the principle of the indivisibility of security and neither party will strengthen its security at the expense of other parties' security.[7] In other words, the format of Russia-NATO cooperation sealed the principle that had been declared at the top level in the OSCE, that is, the principle of equal and indivisible security. And the second fact, which I have mentioned, is that under the Founding Act NATO must not station additional combat forces on a permanent basis in new member states.

"Regarding indivisible security, when the Americans started deploying elements of their global ballistic missile defense system in Europe, we told them that this affected our security and hence we would like to evoke the principle that was declared by the Russia-NATO Council. They assured us that the BMD deployment was not directed against Russia. We reminded them of the famous saying that 'in military affairs, you have to judge not intentions but potential,' and showed them, with maps and facts, that the BMD deployment plans would affect our security.

"When the Americans persisted, we suggested that if they do not regard the political principle of indivisible security as binding, then we should draft a treaty so that all parties know which procedures should be used if a party believes that its security was infringed [upon] or damaged. They categorically refused to discuss this possibility. Do you know what they said? They said that although the Russia-NATO Council made a political declaration on the indivisibility of security they would provide legal safeguards of indivisible security only to the NATO member states. We asked how this could be if the principle was declared for the entire Euro-Atlantic region in the OSCE framework. They had no answer to this question.

"Second, regarding the provision prohibiting the additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces in new member states, we raised the issue of the creation of new NATO bases, including BMD bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, and also similar plans for Romania. We asked our NATO colleagues how this related to their commitment not to station substantial combat forces in new member states. They replied that these are not substantial combat forces and that they will not be stationed permanently but on a rotation basis. Since we did not agree, we proposed signing an agreement with NATO to define the term 'substantial combat forces,' [down] to the last tank, artillery gun, and battalion. They refused even to discuss the idea, behavior which makes us think that, unfortunately, NATO planned to have the freedom to advance in close proximity to our borders long before the events in Ukraine.

"I believe that no reasonable general or politician would expect Russia to applaud these moves. We are responding to this adequately and proportionately. We have to do this to maintain readiness for any developments, because after NATO failed to find an explanation for its continued existence in the Afghan campaign, the Russophobic minority in NATO is trying to rally the member states on a purely anti-Russian basis and by presenting Russia as a present danger to all and sundry."

"There Is A Military Political Bloc Across The Border, Which Regards Russia As A Threat And Intends To Deter It"

Q: "Is Moscow concerned about Sweden's friendly attitude toward NATO in this context? What will be Russia's response if Sweden decides to join NATO?"

A: "It is one thing when one's northern neighbors are neutral states, and it is something else entirely when they are NATO members, which, let me repeat, we perceive as a given [i.e. NATO], but which has recently unambiguously declared deterrence of Russia as its objective, and called Russia a 'major threat.' Therefore, one can join different NATOs. While there was cooperation, trust, and no attempts to refer to each other as a 'threat' that was another sort of NATO. Obviously, things are different now, although I'd say that it is now going through 'withdrawal symptoms': trying to look respectable, but not managing to do so.

"As for Sweden, we confirm that any state has the right to decide independently on the forms it will choose to ensure its security, based on its national interests. It would probably be better to ask the people. [In its efforts to join NATO,] Montenegro has decided not to ask the people [i.e. not to hold a referendum in the country]. By the way, this is an example. What can Montenegro contribute to NATO's security? The answer to this question does not exist. Many sound political analysts ask directly: Is there an acute need for this? The answer is very simple, although they try to avoid it and take refuge behind generalizations that security and democracy are expanding to cover as much geopolitical space as possible and surround the countries that somehow disagree with NATO, such as, for example, Russia and Serbia.

"If Sweden decides to join NATO, we won't think that it intends to attack Russia. I can say this for certain. But, since the Swedish military infrastructure in this situation will report to NATO headquarters, we will have to take the necessary defense measures on our northern borders, based on the fact that there is a military political bloc across the border which regards Russia as a threat and intends to deter it."

Q: "What specific measures would Russia take?"

A: "This isn't my job, this is the job of our military departments: the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Armed Forces. When they see potential on the other side of Russia's borders, either right at the border or a little further away, they know what that potential is and what we can expect, if NATO decides there is a need for 'combat' deterrence."

"The Soviet Union Behaved Honorably; No One Attempted To Keep The Baltic Republics By Force"

Q:"Earlier, Moscow expressed concern about the status of the ethnic Russian minority in the Baltic countries. How has the situation changed? Does Russia realize that the Baltic countries are afraid of their eastern neighbor?"

A:"Regarding their 'fear of their big neighbor,' when the Soviet Union was on the verge of disintegration, they held their referendums and were allowed to go in peace. Nobody threatened them... The Soviet Union behaved honorably. No one attempted to keep the Baltic republics by force although opinions on the issue were divided, but I will not go into this now. They left nicely, without the rupturing of our relations. Nobody saw or heard any gratitude for this. What's more, they immediately started saying that they had been 'violated, used, and exploited' by the Soviet Union. To date, some sick people keep submitting a bill to us for €185 billion euros' worth of compensation, I don't know for what. For the industry that we created there and for the modernization of their economies, in which we invested far more in per capita terms than we did in the [Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Russia] RSFSR, [i.e. Soviet Russia] I think that these people are deranged beyond help.

"When they became free, as they think, and independent, proclaiming all the necessary decisions regarding their sovereignty, to reiterate, with no attempts from Moscow to pull them back in, let alone with the use of force, they scrambled to join NATO. In the 1990s, our relations with NATO were developing quite constructively. We asked our NATO colleagues why they wanted to admit the Baltic States. We were told that they (the Baltic countries) had retained all kinds of phobias ever since the Soviet days and World War I, when all of this began.

"NATO acknowledged that present-day Russia does not pose any threat to them (the Baltic countries) but purportedly this was how they saw the situation: They will be admitted to NATO and they will calm down; everything will be peaceful and constructive and will only help to promote good relations. They were admitted to NATO, but our neighbors, especially in Lithuania, did not calm down. What's more, at present they are the most aggressive Russophobic core, pushing NATO, by using the consensus principle, to pursue a firm anti-Russia course..."

 

Endnotes:

[1] Fokus.dn.se, April 28, 2016.

[2] Thelocal.se, April 29, 2016.

[3] Mid.ru, April 28, 2016.