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memri
June 23, 2016 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'

On June 17, 2016, Russia's President Vladimir Putin addressed the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).[1] The plenary session was followed by Q&As, moderated by CNN host Fareed Zakaria.[2]  Putin also met with the heads of major international news agencies[3] to discuss the Western ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe and other topics. What follows is an analysis of Putin's positions on NATO and the U.S. as expressed at the SPIEF. It is worth noting that Russian officials frequently dismiss NATO as a U.S. or view the US and NATO as "twins".[4]

Putin: 'I Do Not Want To 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'

"I do not want to believe that we are moving towards another Cold War," said Putin, in reply to a question by CNN host Fareed Zakaria on whether the world is settling into a low-grade, lower-level cold war between the West and Russia, during the Q&As that followed on the SPIEF's June 17, 2016 plenary session. According to Putin, the tensions between the West and Russia are extraneous to the "logic of global confrontation", but a problem remains that can produce "redoubling efforts to scare each other", and then "one day it will come to a cold war."[5]

Putin explained that the problem is rooted in Western disregard for the Russian position. He stressed that following the Soviet Union' collapse, Russia hoped to enjoy a prosperous era. Instead, Russia had to confront numerous challenges, including separatism and expected support from "our partners" in the West.[6] Instead, according to Putin, the West disappointed Russia for the first time by backing the separatists over Russia.  

But more serious hardships followed with NATO's eastwards expansion. Putin said: "the Soviet Union was no more; the Warsaw Pact had ceased to exist. But for some reason, NATO continues to expand its infrastructure towards Russia's borders."[7] Putin cited the case of Montenegro's recent accession to NATO as a further example of Western anti-Russian provocation.

The signing of the accession protocol of Montenegro to NATO on May 19, 2016 aroused Russian anger . Russia's permanent mission to NATO posted on its website an article on Montenegro's NATO that caused a particularly emotional reaction from the Russian side, as  "Russia and Montenegro are united by 300 years of close cooperation, with Russia contributing to the establishment and development of Montenegrin statehood in the 19th century and being among the first to recognize the country's independence from Serbia in 2006, with investment from Russian businesses serving as a strong driver for Montenegro's economic development since then."[8] On December 2, 2015, when Montenegro was invited by NATO to join the military alliance, the Chairperson of the Russian Federation Council's Committee on Foreign Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev, commented that the Balkan country's accession would be "regrettable" stating that "Montenegro has now been included in this mechanism of permanent reproduction of the 'cold war.'[9]

Putin: A Strategic Missile Defense System Forms Part Of An Offensive Strategic Strike Capability

Another problem souring relations is the "unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty [ABM]"referring to US' policy to push for NATO's "Aegis Ashore" ballistic missile defense system that already became operational in Romania and to the construction of another ballistic-missile defense site officially started in Poland that will be operative in 2018.[10] Putin also mocked attempts by U.S. officials to describe the Aegis Ashore system as purely defensive and mainly intended to counter threats from Iran. He implied that the West is deceiving Russia about the real motives behind Aegis Ashore. Putin claimed that the real reason was Western disdain for Russia similar to that exhibited by the "unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. from the ABM Treaty" under the George W. Bush administration. The West believed that a Russia so deeply mired in domestic problems was incapable of restoring its defense sector: "Clearly, nobody expected us to be able to maintain our arsenals, let alone have new strategic weapons. They thought they would build up their missile defense forces unilaterally while our arsenals would be shrinking."[11]

In his meeting with leaders of international news agencies, Putin explained that the term missile defense system was misleading: "everyone understands that if one side is more successful in developing its missile defense than the other, it gains an edge and has the temptation to be the first to use these [nuclear] weapons." Putin stated: "It is not at all my intention to berate or accuse anyone of anything, but when our U.S. partners unilaterally withdrew [from the ABM Treaty], this was a major blow. In fact, this was the first blow to international stability in terms of upsetting the strategic balance of power. I said back then, "We are currently unable to develop this technology due to the high costs, and secondly, it has yet to be seen how it will work. Instead of simply siphoning off money, we will go the other way by improving Russia's offensive weapons in order to maintain the balance. This was the only purpose, and it had nothing to do with threatening anyone. Here is what we heard in response: 'It is true that our missile defense system is not intended to oppose Russia, and we assume that what you do is not against us, so you may do as you please.'"[12]

Putin said that Russia's offer of cooperation with the West was rebuffed. Now, Russia's nuclear arsenals are threatened by the missile defense system based in Romania: "They [the West] have built this system and are now delivering missiles there. You probably know that the launching systems of the Tomahawk sea-launched intermediate-range missiles will be used to launch anti-missiles with an effective range of 500 kilometers. However, technology does not stand still, and we know more or less precisely when the Americans will create a new missile that will have a range of 1,000 kilometers or more. From that time on, they will be a threat to our nuclear arsenals...We are being told that this is part of a defensive, not offensive, capability, that these systems are intended to ensure defense against aggression. This is not true. This is not the way things are. A strategic missile defense system is part of an offensive strategic capability, and is tightly linked to offensive missile strike systems. Some high-precision weapons are used to carry out a pre-emptive strike, while others serve as a shield against a retaliatory strike, and still others carry out nuclear strikes. All these objectives are related, and go hand in hand with the use of high-precision conventional weapons. All right, even if we put aside the interceptor missiles that will be developed in the future, increasingly threatening Russia, but the launch tubes where these missiles are stored, as I said, are the same that are used on navy ships to carry Tomahawk missiles. You can replace interceptor missiles with Tomahawks in a matter of hours and these tubes will no longer be used to intercept missiles. How do we know what is inside them? All they need is to change the software. This can be done seamlessly; even the Romanians would not know what is going on, since they cannot access these facilities, right? No one will know -neither the Romanians nor the Poles. I know how this is done. In my opinion, this is a major threat."[13]

Putin also added that Russia would be forced to "retaliate" and ensure security, and "not just in Russia." During a visit to Greece intended to mend ties between Russia and the E.U., the Russian President  threatened  to target Romania for hosting a NATO ballistic missile defense base. Putin said: "If yesterday people simply did not know what it means to be in the crosshairs in those areas of Romania, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security. And it will be the same with Poland...At the moment, the interceptor missiles installed [in Romania] have a range of 500 kilometers, soon this will go up to 1000 kilometers, and worse than that, they can be rearmed with 2400km-range offensive missiles even today, and it can be done by simply switching the software... We have the capability to respond. The whole world saw what our medium-range sea-based missiles are capable of [reaching Syria]. But we violate no agreements. And our ground-based Iskander missiles have also proven themselves as superb...NATO fends us off with vague statements that this is no threat to Russia... That the whole project began as a preventive measure against Iran's nuclear program. Where is that program now? It doesn't exist...We have been saying since the early 2000s that we will have to react somehow to your moves to undermine international security. No one is listening to us."[14]

Putin: We Do Not Need Constant US Interference In Our Affairs,  And American Attempts To Impede Russia-Europe Relations

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:[15]  "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."[16]

The theme of tensions between Russia and the West, or more precisely between Russia and the U.S., recurred frequently in Putin's answers to Fareed Zakharia and in statements and articles by the Russian foreign policy elite. Although Putin recognizes the U.S. as a "super power", he chafes at Washington's meddling in Russia's affairs and its attempt to thwart good relations between Europe and Moscow. Putin said: "America is a great power, today perhaps the only superpower. We accept this. We want to work with the United States and we are prepared to...The world needs a powerful country like the United States, and we also need it. But we do not need it to continuously interfere in our affairs, telling us how to live, and preventing Europe from building a relationship with us."[17] Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated this during the Valdai International Discussion Club's session at the SPIEF and accused the U.S. of trying to separate Europe from Russia, while "patching up" NATO.'s solidarity: "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..."[18] This subject had been already addressed by Lavrov on June 15, 2016, during Government Hour at the State Duma. Lavrov then accused the U.S. and its allies of trying to create a 'deterrence front' against Russia based on "Cold War precepts."[19]

Russian political scientist and historian Aleksandr Sytin, who heads the Center for Central and Eastern European Political Studies, argued in the Russian leading liberal station Echo of Moscow on July 6 that the "Cold war" is already here. He was seconded in this opinion, by an April 26, 2016 article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta  titled "Russia and the Arms Race", by Alexei Georgievich Arbatov, head of the Center for International Security at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), and a member of the Russian Academy of Science and the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. Arbatov wrote that Russia is already engaged in a large-scale military rivalry with the U.S. and NATO countries. According to Arbatov, the new arms race will be more costly and more dangerous than the Cold War version. Arbatov argues that the current arms race is more perilous than the U.S.-Soviet Union Cold War competition. The U.S.-USSR arm race was limited by a series of treaties, whereas in the future all "limitations may be cast aside." Arbatov also suggested that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation systems may collapse and the "the probability of military, accidental or terrorist use of nuclear arms" is high.[20]

In May 2016, the pro-Kremlin Russian think tank Council for Foreign and Defense Policies published a memorandum, titled "Russia's Foreign Policy: From the Late 2010s - To the Early 2020s," that dovetailed with Arbatov's that the old stable nuclear balance was becoming increasingly fragile and the chance of a nuclear war has increased. The memorandum stated: "In the world of traditional politics, such rapid re-distribution of economic and political powers and of moral influence would almost inevitably trigger a series of large-scale wars or even a new world war. But so far, this has been prevented by the most important structural factor that has determined the world's development for the past seventy years - nuclear weapons, especially super-powerful arsenals in Russia and the US. They only prevented the Cold War from becoming a nuclear war. Had it not been for the sobering threat of a nuclear Armageddon, the 'old' world establishment would hardly have agreed to the explosive growth of influence of rising powers, primarily China and India. But the proliferation of nuclear weapons goes on, whereas the level of trust, dialogue, and positive cooperation in the military and strategic sphere is extremely low. Taken together, all this increases the probability of a nuclear war. Sustainable international strategic stability has decreased."[21]

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] MEMRI has already surveyed Putin's general and economic message in two previous reports: See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6485, Russian President Putin At SPIEF Plenary Session: The 'Greater Eurasia' Project Is Open To Europe - Part I, June 20, 2016 and MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6487, Russian President Putin At The SPIEF Plenary Session: 'Our Goal Is To Achieve Economic Growth Rates Of No Less Than 4 Percent A Year' - Part II, June 21, 2016.

[2] See: Plenary session of St Petersburg International Economic Forum, Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6402, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev: Zero Economic Growth In 2016; Growth Expected in 2017-2019, April 27, 2016.

[5] Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

[6] Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

[7] Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

[8] Russia is trying to rally European opposition parties to stop NATO's expansion. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Russia's ruling United Russia party has signed a declaration with the head of Montenegrin People's Democratic Party (PDP), Milan Knezevic, and the head of Montenegrin People's Socialist Party (PSP), Srđan Milić. The declaration affirms the will to establish neutral states in South-East Europe (Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina), and reincorporate Kosovo into Serbia. This decision also appears motivated by Serbian disinterest in joining NATO's, although Belgrade is part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. The declaration states further that the neutrality of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina should be guaranteed by both Russia and NATO.  It is worth noting that the PDP opposes a dialogue with the Montenegrin authorities and favors changing the government. In October 2015, Milan Knezevic headed a 5,000 man protest march on parliament to demand the resignation of Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and the scheduling of immediate elections.

Kommersant.ru, May 10; Sputniknews.com, March 9, 2016

[9] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6443, Russian Reactions To Negotiations On Montenegro's NATO Membership, May 20, 2016

[11] Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

[12] Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

[13] Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

[14] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6451, Russia This Week - May 23-30, 2016, May 30, 2016.

[15] During a press conference for Russian and foreign journalists held at the SPIEF on June 18, 2001, Putin reiterated that Russia does not see a reason for NATO's existence. He added that NATO as presently constituted, precludes the possibily of achieving unity in Europe, a unity that requires the creation of a common security and defense space . Putin said: "We constantly hear that everybody wants to bring down some kind of barriers and borders in Europe. We are all for it. But let us take a closer look at the implications. What does it mean to bring down borders and barriers? Let us think about it. And if it means pushing that barrier closer to the Russian borders, we are not very amused. Yes, those who are included in the common space will have no borders, but the borders are springing up in front of us. It results in different security levels on the continent and, in my opinion, it does not match the present-day realities and has not been prompted by any political or military exigencies." Putin therefore advocates either disbanding NATO, which he says is unrealistic, or admitting Russia into NATO -a laughable proposition. However, Putin offers a third option that he appears to favor.: A new organization should be created and tasked with creating a common defense and security space that would also include Russia . Putin believes that this last option should be set proposed to the OSCE. However, Putin claims the OSCE is currently concentrating its efforts on Central Asia and the North Caucasus, rather than pressing for a common space and security in Europe.Putin views the creation of a new structure which would provide a substitute NATO essential for ending the climate of mistrust, since "I think it is clear to everyone that Russia is not threatening anyone and is not going to threaten anyone." Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has consistently proposed to join Western organizations. For example, Russian president Boris Yeltsin, as well as Putin himself during the first years of his presidency, both spoke about Russian membership in NATO. However, the West has always considered Russia to be too large an entity for successful integration into NATO. However, potential Russian membership in NATO is somewhat moot, because Russia was unlikely to yield part of its military sovereignty, a prerequisite for its joining NATO.

(Kremlin.ru, June 18, 2001)

[16] Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

[17] Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

[18] Mid.ru, June 16, 2016.