Embassy Information

Interview given by Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkey Vladimir IVANOVSKIY to “The Diplomatic Forum”, Spring 2009

Question 1: Mr Ambassador, let us start with a hot topic: the August 2008 events. How do you define and evaluate the Russia’s actions in response to Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia?

Vladimir E. Ivanovskiy: Russia’s actions in response to Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia were by no means arbitrary ones and they were fully commensurate with the prevailing situation. Georgia’s aggression resulted in a tremendous human toll, in particular among Russian civilians and peace-keepers. We pursued no other goals except for ensuring effective guarantees of non-recurrence of the aggression and disrupting similar plans regarding Abkhazia. Our response, legitimized by Article 51 of the UN Charter and other norms of international law, was commensurate with the task of enforcing peace on the part of the aggressor and neutralizing its military infrastructure which made it possible to use air assets and heavy weapons against the civilian population.

There was no common understanding of the problem. Our relations with our leading partners, especially the US and the EU, were put to a serious test. However, our common search for solutions has led to a pragmatic cooperation between Russia and the EU, which is now becoming a stabilizing factor in the Euro-Atlantic region. The agreements signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on 12 August and 8 September 2008 laid the foundation for a post-crisis settlement and secured the role of the EU as a guarantor of the non-use of force by Georgia against Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

I am convinced that our resolute actions as well as the subsequent recognition of independence of the two Republics and signing the Treaties on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance with them have strengthened the credibility of Russia as an effective guarantor of peace and humanitarian security. We have shown our ability to prevent the use of the “law of force”. This will help to consolidate those political forces that tend to recognize new international realities rather than to oppose them or try to turn back the clock.

Now we need to do our utmost to make sure that such dangerous situations do not occur again. We believe that in view of the events that took place last August President Medvedev’s initiative to establish a universal collective security system in the Euro-Atlantic region and to conclude a new legally binding agreement to this end is becoming all the more relevant. Advancing efforts in this direction would help avoid the emergence of new dividing lines in Europe and build a continental architecture based on the principle of indivisibility of security.

The long term logic how to ensure lasting peace teaches that the future of the region belongs to the nations living there. With this understanding we value the regional initiative of Turkey to launch the Platform of Stability and Cooperation in the Caucuses. We believe that this timely and relevant proposal needs to be further discussed and developed. In its essence the Platform should remove the vicious and alien to region stereotypes capitalizing on hatred and antagonism and become a means to communication and building confidence between all the peoples and nations of the Caucasus.

Speaking on the geopolitical consequences the August 2008 events have brought, I’d like to say that we had no plans to "shake the geopolitical tree" and reap its fruits. However, events in the Caucasus revealed a lot. Among other things it became perfectly clear that the outdated policy based on past principles and prejudices does not work anymore. It is not possible to do business in a way as if nothing has happened in the world besides the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. In other words, the whole framework of international relations has changed dramatically and it should be adequately reflected in the policy of all States. The current global financial and economic crisis is another reminder of that.

One of the most important lessons the August events taught us is that the myth of a "unipolar world" has definitely become a thing of the past and any attempt to revive it is futile. New centers of economic growth and political influence which are emerging in the world form the core of a multipolar system based on the rule of law and multilateral cooperation. This is the reality that the overwhelming majority of States begin to reckon with by adopting pragmatic and multi-track policies. Flexible coalitions striving to promote common interests of their members start to play a key role in dealing with international problems.

The crisis in the Caucasus has shown that today’s problems including the settlement of conflicts cannot be dealt with through the use of force. Accord is only possible by using political and diplomatic means with the involvement of all stakeholders and without excluding anyone. Those will be our guidelines now and in the future, and we will make major efforts to contribute to a comprehensive settlement of conflicts, including those in Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Today, Russia’s foreign policy has proven to be correct. We intend to pursue an active and constructive foreign policy based on pragmatism and openness and on promoting our national interests in a firm yet non-confrontational manner.

Question 2: As far as we know Ukraine and Georgia are considered as candidate members in the new expansion period of NATO. How do you evaluate this act? And what can you say about the present situation in the CIS space?

Vladimir E. Ivanovskiy: For us the CIS space is not a “chessboard” for playing geopolitical games, nor an “arc of distrust.” This is a common civilization area for all the peoples living here. It preserves our historical and spiritual heritage. Our geography, economic interdependence, and cultural/civilizational commonality give all CIS countries tangible competitive advantages. And the integrative imperatives of globalization make themselves strongly felt here as they do elsewhere.

Therefore we cannot agree when attempts are being made to pass off the historically conditioned mutually privileged relations between the states in the former Soviet expanse as a “sphere of influence.” If you accept that logic, then under this definition fall the European Neighborhood Policy, Eastern Partnership and many other EU (let alone NATO) projects, on which the decisions are taken without the participation of Russia or countries to which they apply. And in discussions on Kosovo status our European partners constantly appealed to the Balkans being a “European problem,” insisting on the special, privileged interests of the European Union in the region – regardless of Serbia’s position.

Not only Russia has privileged interests, first and foremost, in relations with our closest neighbors; they also have the same privileged interests in Russia. Failing to understand it and trying to destroy what rests on our combined objective history and on the interdependence and intertwining of our economies, infrastructures, cultures and humanitarian spheres of life means to go against history.

Regrettably, many our western partners have been unable to appreciate the essentially postmodernist and ideology-free tendencies in the CIS space, predicated on a striving to use common values, the combined potential and heritage in the interests of our peoples. The Russia-Belarus Union State, EurAsEC or CSTO – these are not bloc, but integrating organizations. Relationships in them have their own civilizational specificities – here we do not oppress one another, do not twist arms, which far from all in the West can understand.

Rhetoric in recent years has also hindered seeing that Russia’s efforts stood to reduce the negative consequences of the breakup of the Soviet Union to a minimum – by historical yardsticks. An objective vision of things is beclouded by past prejudices; hence we speak of the negative role of the Sovietologists stuck in the past in crafting the policy of a number of western countries toward present-day Russia.

Why should a united Europe be built from a single center and not at several sites at once? The striving to “take away bit by bit” the post-Soviet space and get it under resembles too much of the Bolshevist method – “clear the site” for new construction (“down to the ground, and then…”). The voluntary or involuntary aim of such method is to preserve the dividing line in Europe and move it ever closer to the Russian border, and we want to eliminate this line, as was agreed in the OSCE and as we, at least in words, arranged with the EU and NATO. Moreover, the line on tearing away its neighbors from Russia on the rails of creating national states of the 19th-century type promises all of Europe not postmodernist perspectives, but a return to the past with its destructive nationalism. The same standards meeting the exigencies of the 21st century, including national minority rights, ought to be universally applied across the Euro-Atlantic area – there’ll be no questions then about what century we live in.

NATO’s further eastward enlargement creates difficulties for us and Euro-Atlantic politics as a whole. Some new members have brought an obsolete confrontational policy with them, which drags the alliance into its previous state of the Cold War era. Certain aspirant members try to surpass them in this. These countries were simply too late to join the old NATO.

We would not like to see NATO become an outlet for aggressive instincts and pro-confrontation sentiments – without any particular consequences for practical politics.

Question 3: Mr Ambassador, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed in 2008 to elaborate an international treaty to establish a new security architecture. I would like to ask if the idea of Mikhail Gorbachev concerning a "common European home" from Vancouver to Vladivostok has anything to do with this? And how do you view the North American project to create the missile defense system in Europe?

Vladimir E. Ivanovskiy: Yes, President Medvedev came up with the initiative to conclude a Treaty which would ensure a truly universal system of collective security in the Euro-Atlantic area and to have this process launched at a pan-European summit. In general, any idea only seems new but in fact it has its forerunner and if we speak about a “common European home” from the Atlantic to the Urals we know that this idea was voiced long before Mikhail Gorbachev. Charles de Gaulle spoke of it. I am convinced that even Charles de Gaulle had his predecessors. What does it tell us about? Good ideas always find their expression through politicians who formulate such proposals.

Proposals of our President are naturally a modification of the proposals that existed previously, yet they reflect the realities of modern world. Today there is no confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The two blocs do not co-exist in Europe any longer. There is no Iron Curtain and, thank God, the Cold War is over. That is why that concept cannot remain untouched, but in our view it has the right to exist namely because the current security system in Europe is imperfect, and I have just mentioned this. Europe still has no collective security system which would be open to everyone and would provide equal security for everybody. There are countries that, strictly speaking, are not part of any alliances and their security is not ensured by any bloc. And since this is the case this will always create tensions, and create the impression that one is not quite correctly understood, and simply create problems in relations. We believe that in order to cope with this task it is necessary to set up such an organization that would unite all European countries whatever entity they belong to, i.e. NATO, the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or the European Union. All these entities form multitudes that do not overlap. Therefore we need some other universal forum.

You may argue that we have the OSCE. The problem is that the OSCE in recent years has failed to realize its potential. In my view, the efficiency of the OSCE is lower than it was during the Cold War when it was not called an organization but the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and was backed by the so-called Helsinki Act. That is why we do not object the discussion of these issues in the format of the OSCE. Yet, we believe that the outline of the new security system should be somewhat different.

What could be proposed in that respect? We could hold a summit in the OSCE format. I have already mentioned that. Some of our European partners accept this idea while some other partners in Europe do not deem it necessary.

Let us then consider another mechanism. We could consider establishing such a forum based on relations among European countries which are not members of the EU, on the one hand, and the European Union, on the other hand. This is also an acceptable option. We should just take a creative approach and come up with an idea that could unite us all. It is my firm conviction that this is quite reasonable.

By the way, a number of dramatic events, including those which happened last year, have demonstrated that peace is extremely fragile. I refer, inter alia, to the August developments: crisis in the Caucasus, Georgia's aggression against small entities which were in the past parts of its territory. Thus, the above task is extremely urgent.

As to the ABM defense idea, I would put it another way. In my view, the idea as proposed is irrelevant. What is more, it produces a sense of disappointment, a feeling that it is aimed, though not directly, against Russia. Naturally, Russia does not like it, that is quite obvious. However, what could happen? No one denies the existence of various threats including those related to acts of nuclear terrorism or threats emanating from countries with unstable regimes. But let us respond to those threats collectively, without isolating each other from those processes; we have repeatedly made such proposals, including to our American partners. The past US Administration held a very «simple» stance: we shall do that because we decided so. We expect that the new Administration of the United States of America will approach that issue in a more inventive and partnership-like manner. We have already received such messages from our American colleagues.

Question 4: When the West recognised Kosovo you were opposed and said it went against international law, and then you did exactly the same thing by recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Is not that a double-standard?

Vladimir E. Ivanovskiy: No, we do not think this is a double-standard. My colleagues said to me on many occasions that Kosovo is a special case, casus sui generis, as lawyers say. Ok, if Kosovo is a special case, this is also a special case. In the case of Kosovo we did not see sufficient reason for recognising a new subject of international law, but in this case, in order to prevent the killing of people and a humanitarian catastrophe, in order for justice to triumph and for these peoples to realise their right to self-determination, we have recognised their independence. No two cases are alike in international law.

I would like to once again draw your attention to the fact that each state can determine whether it wants to recognise a certain people as a subject of international law or not. In our opinion the situation that took place in Kosovo did not merit this decision and Kosovo did not have enough requirements for it to be recognised as a subject of international law. However, I have to admit that not all states agreed with us and a number of other countries did recognize the independence of Kosovo. But in this particular case, in our opinion, the situation existed for 17 years, during which ethnic cleansing was conducted and cases of genocide took place, both in the early 90s and now it has happened again. So the situation in this particular case is quite different and therefore we believe that under the UN Charter, the Declaration of 1970 and the Helsinki Act of 1975 that we have every legal ground to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Question 5: The US has just lost their Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan, the springboard for supplying NATO troops in their fight against Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan. I would like to ask you whether Russia can or wants to do anything to make up for this loss?

Vladimir E. Ivanovskiy: I will divide my answer into two parts.

I will be absolutely brief in answering to the first part: the Kyrgyzstani leadership’s decision to close the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan was a sovereign one. They gave their reasons for this decision, as far as I understand, it was largely because back then it had been decided to host the base for a couple years. However, the base has been there for eight years. It does not seem to have been agreed on. But ultimately, it is their competence and they have made the decision. It should be respected as any decision made by a sovereign state on the legal basis they used.

As to our cooperation on Afghanistan, I would like to say that we are interested in stepping it up rather than in stopping it. We can see what threats radical groups operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan and some other countries pose. Those groups are threatening the entire humanity and largely, or primarily, their own peoples. That is why we are ready to step up this cooperation in all areas and do that also with the Unites States of America.

We have already come up with a number of proposals regarding the transit of non-military supplies for the US to use these opportunities. We have made such agreements with France and Germany. Therefore, we believe that this kind of work should continue.

In my view, we have a very good basis here to come to terms. It is my understanding that this issue is high on the foreign policy agenda of the new US President. We share this approach. Moreover, we are also ready to take part in discussing how to achieve settlement in Afghanistan and resolve its domestic problems, with the involvement of respected international organizations. We agreed to hold a conference to deal with this issue, during the SCO Summit not long ago. I believe that soon this year a conference on Afghanistan can take place under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

We use the SCO format in this case because those are primarily Afghanistan’s neighboring countries. Certainly, they are interested in a more active and efficient settlement in this country, as well as in a solid basis for shaping a sound political system in Afghanistan that would enjoy the confidence of its people, that would be effective rather than imposed from outside and weak. In any case, we are interested in seeing Afghanistan a civilized and efficient democratic State.

Question 6: Please let us carry on with Turkey-Russia relations. Could you please tell us about the current situation in the relations between our countries?

Vladimir E. Ivanovskiy: The relationship between our countries has a history stretching back over five centuries, and is one of good neighbourliness and cooperation. Russia and Turkey are the two most important countries in the region, which are called upon to make a weighty contribution to ensuring peace, stability, security and cooperation across the region.

Our bilateral trade is developing well. Russia has become Turkey's first trading partner. Turkey is also one of the leaders in trade with Russia. We have many shared interests and are at work on many joint problems. We are very happy about this because relations with Turkey are our foreign policy priority.

The visit of the President of Turkey, Mr gul, marked a significant stage in the development of Russian-Turkish relations. And these are at the moment not simply relations between equals, but are also very friendly and have very good prospects. We have recently started to call them multifaceted cooperation and multidimensional partnership.

The reflection of this quality of our relations and their special current status can be found in the agreement that was signed by our Presidents, the Joint Declaration on moving to a new stage of relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey, the further deepening of our friendship and multidisciplinary partnership. This is a political document, but it is not simply a framework or a formulation; instead, this is the document which will be the basis for the subsequent cooperation in foreign policy, trade and economic relations, and in cultural cooperation.

As I have said, Turkey is Russia’s most important economic partner. The trade volume between our two countries has already reached 34 billion dollars according to our statistics. Thus the task that we faced for some time, to increase this indicator to 25 billion dollars, has really been exceeded. And today our Turkish colleagues have reminded us of that time when the trade between us was a mere 1 billion dollars. That means we can say that over the past decade it has increased by 35 times. That is a very significant indicator.

In the long term we plan, of course, to stimulate bilateral investment, modernise infrastructure and implement major energy projects. Here too we already have good experience of cooperating with the Republic of Turkey, but new opportunities are opening up. There is cooperation in the sphere of electricity generation, civilian nuclear power, and we expect these kinds of projects to be implemented.

We intend to develop inter-regional ties, cultural cooperation, cultural and educational exchanges, and foster direct contact between citizens of our countries. This is linked, of course, to the development of tourism. Incidentally about three million Russian citizens visited Turkey last year. This is a very significant number.

In general our positions coincided on the majority of international issues. It is in our countries’ interests that we bolster the security of the Caucasus region, in order to reinforce security across the Black Sea region. And here, in the first place, we are in complete agreement on a whole host of positions which could provide the necessary level of security.

I’m sure that it is in our power to give a new dynamism to Russian-Turkish cooperation in many fields.

Question 7: Could you tell us about the main points of a Joint Declaration on progress towards a new stage in Russian-Turkish relations and continued development of the friendship and multifaceted partnership between the two countries.

Vladimir E. Ivanovskiy: The document declared both countries’ satisfaction with their active contacts and also with their similarity of approaches and policies on important regional and international issues. 

In the economic area, the declaration calls for measures to be drawn up as rapidly as possible for ensuring free movement of goods, services and capital, development of reciprocal investment, cooperation in the nuclear energy sector, work together on projects part of the preparations for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and cooperation in the tourism and transport sectors, in particular the project for a rail and ferry link between Russia and Turkey.

The declaration also notes the important work of the Russian-Turkish Intergovernmental Commission on military-technical and defence industry cooperation. It also states the need to enhance the foundation of security agreements between the two countries. 

Noting the importance of stability in the South Caucasus for the Eurasian region’s security, Russia and Turkey declared the need for effective measures to settle the frozen conflicts in the South Caucasus. The two countries think that Turkey’s proposal to create platforms for cooperation in the Caucasus is a constructive idea. The declaration also notes the Black Sea region’s strategic importance and affirms Russia and Turkey’s resolve to work together on settling the region’s problems through cooperation in international organisations and at the bilateral level.

Question 8: Finally we would like to know about Moscow’s perception about the current structure of international system. How do you define it?

Vladimir E. Ivanovskiy: Our view of the contemporary world and the goals and objectives that Russia pursues in it are clearly formulated in the Foreign Policy Concept, approved by President Medvedev. On this ideological basis a national foreign policy strategy has been shaped that corresponds to the exigencies of the qualitatively new geopolitical situation in the world. It is most fully articulated in President Medvedev’s Address to the Federal Assembly.

We will never agree to legal nihilism in world affairs, with the attitude towards international law as a “draft pole” and as the “fate of the weak” or with any attempts to “cut corners” to the detriment of international legality, which is the embodiment of the moral principle in relations among states. Indeed, international law is our ideology in international affairs. To use Fyodor Tyutchev’s phrase, we want “once and for all to establish the triumph of law, of historical legality over the revolutionary mode of action.”

The Caucasus crisis has shown that contemporary problems, including conflict and crisis settlement, cannot be solved by force. There is no alternative to politico-diplomatic methods involving all parties to reach agreement. Therefore we will continue within the existing formats to undertake active efforts to render all-out assistance to Transnistrian and Nagorno Karabakh settlement so as to help the sides reach agreement. I am convinced that it is quite possible to find mutually acceptable solutions. The same possibility existed with regard to the South Ossetian and Abkhaz conflicts, but Tbilisi buried it, having trampled the relevant accords.

With the end of the Cold War the prerequisites for establishing the principles of genuine freedom in the international community arose. Grounds for bloc policies have disappeared. The multivariant behavior of states on the international scene has increased. The notorious principle of “you’re either with us, or against us” no longer operates. Conditions are being created for a polycentric world in which states are driven by their national interests cleansed of ideology and by a common understanding of collective interests. Herein is the basis of an emerging new, self-regulatory international system.

We will always give preference to multilateral diplomacy. If, however, partners are not ready for joint action, Russia will be forced to go it alone in defending its national interests, but always on the basis of international law.

Firmly based on international law and the Constitution and laws of Russia, we are going to protect the life and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, to support the interests of Russian business and to develop privileged relations with Russia’s friends in various regions.

I think that sooner or later we will arrive at the recognition of the necessity to revise the entire international agenda so as to agree on its truly collective version. We don’t need to start from scratch – after all, we have a common base for that, in the form of the purposes and principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter. But a radical revision of the methods to put them into practice is a must, because the imposition upon everybody of a picture of world development since 1992 that was unilaterally drawn in the West and which has proved its complete invalidity, is the root cause of all current international complications.

It is in our common interest to overcome the deepening global financial crisis. Russia took an active part in the G20 Washington Summit that launched a reform process for the global financial architecture, supported at another representative forum – the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Lima. This work has only begun and it will take time. One more G20 summit is already scheduled. Interest in such discussion is also manifest within the UN. We need to overcome the contradiction between a unilateral mode of action and the collective interests of the international community in the financial sphere as well. To be legitimate and effective, the new architecture of world finances must be open and fair, and rely upon all existing financial centers and their regional currencies, backed by real resources and by a real potential for economic growth. This also calls for strengthening the regional level of governance – otherwise the sustainability of the new system can’t be ensured.

The crisis provides a good opportunity for refocusing the attention of all major players on real problems and may become a powerful catalyst for long-term trends toward pragmatism and the demilitarization and de-ideologization of international relations. Close cooperation in surmounting the crisis could well create the conditions and critical mass of trust necessary for solving other problems.

Moreover, there are grounds to assume that the creation of a polycentric financial architecture will be the decisive element of global governance reform: everything else will fall into place, and the collective nature of the new system will minimize the possibility of any new geopolitical redivision of the world.

In the past, upon crash of an empire, the international community always strove to agree a new set of “rules of the game,” bearing in mind a particular system of collective security. The answer to the collapse of Napoleon’s empire was the Vienna Congress. The collective security system it devised for Europe was destroyed by the Crimean War, with the subsequent unification of Germany under Prussian rule and with the First World War. The West was unable to create a comprehensive collective security system in the interwar period, when the borders of Germany’s eastern neighbors were not guaranteed. The failure of the Third Reich and the defeat of militarist Japan led to the international community’s creation of the United Nations Organization, based on a polycentric vision of the world, which found reflection in, among other things, the principle of unanimity of the permanent members of the Security Council.

The Cold War with its bipolarity, bloc discipline and the ideologically motivated behavior of states pushed the UN into the background, heavily distorting the functioning of the Organization. And only now can the UN system work according to its original purpose. To this end, it is necessary to make it clear to all that there exists a uniform code of conduct for all states.

Russia stands ready for that. Setting itself the task of unfolding the potential amassed in recent years and of achieving a new quality in internal development in the interests of the country and all of its citizens, we are going actively to promote the formation and implementation of a positive, unifying international agenda.