Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov comments on the growing rift between Russia and NATO, suggesting that NATO is once again architecting a policy of containment against Russia.

Russia's Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu (left) talks with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (R) during a NATO-Russia defence ministers council at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels on October 23, 2013. Photo: Reuters

Due to the situation in Ukraine, NATO recently announced an end to military and civilian cooperation with Russia. In turn, Russia recalled its representative from the NATO-Russia Council, casting doubt on the status of future collaboration.

Amidst the deteriorating state of relations between the two sides, Russia Direct recently interviewed Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov for his take on the current relationship between Russia and NATO.

Russia Direct: The situation in Ukraine has shaken the international security system. Do you agree with this statement?

Anatoly Antonov,  Russian Deputy Defense Minister. Photo: RIA NovostiAnatoly Antonov.: I’ll be brief: Such chaos – political and economic – in any country affects international and regional security. Ukraine is at the heart of Europe, with huge commercial and industrial potential. Of course, crisis events in this country cannot but have an impact on the entire system of European security.

The outcome of the Second World War showed that fascism has no place in the world. But suddenly, it is springing to life in the Baltic countries, in some countries of Central Europe, and, to my great dismay, we see it in Ukraine.

Nevertheless, as regards multilateral formats, as you can see, no interruptions have occurred – the UN keeps working, the OSCE keeps working. The Conference on Disarmament – a unique form of negotiation – keeps working.

RD: How would you comment on the freezing of relations in the Russia–NATO format?

A.A.: The current crisis in Ukraine shows that the NATO-Russia Council, which was set up as an “all-weather” platform for dialogue, for mutually beneficial projects, no longer functions. More precisely, it no longer functions in the capacity that the leaders of NATO and Russia originally envisioned.

The current Ukrainian crisis has demonstrated that NATO needs us only when we pursue a coherent policy that does not contradict its own policy. It is proving difficult for us to build a full-fledged partnership.

Today, NATO is attempting to shape a very rigid policy of containment of Russia.

It is no coincidence that we are again hearing statements by the alliance leaders that Russia is a threat to the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe, and that NATO must respond immediately to increase its military budget to set up or bolster military potential of these countries.

Before, NATO had the plausible pretext that they were creating bases to train officers and soldiers to be dispatched to some new “hot spot” as peacekeepers. Today, nobody tries to hide the fact that they are permanent military formations.

Whether they are described as bases or formations makes little difference to us. It is the emergence of a military capability on our border — the line of “friendship” between NATO and Russia. We believe that this should not be a dividing line, but rather, a line of contact, cooperation, and dialogue. That's what we would like.

We are told they are planning to reconsider the entire legal basis of cooperation with Russia.  Well, I guess we should do the same. Right now, thankfully, there is a window in which to calmly analyze what has been done correctly and what has to be adjusted.

I should point out that we hear from NATO and Europe that the breakdown in relations with Russia needs to be handled cautiously. So much time, effort, and painful discussions were spent on setting up a platform for cooperation between Russia and NATO, and it could all fall apart so easily. Restoring it afterwards will be very difficult.

RD: Can you give some examples of positive cooperation between Russia and NATO?

A.A.: There are positives in our relations with NATO, for instance, military medicine and supply chain operations.

Certainly, we have positive results from working with NATO countries. This work is in the field of military medicine, in the field of logistics, carrying out of rescue operations, the fight against piracy, cooperation on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, for example. We have always strived to build relationships so that they are useful to all parties. 

As I have repeatedly stated, dialogue for the sake of dialogue, we do not need.

Based on my department’s priorities, we tried to develop projects that are appealing and vital — projects that will strengthen global and regional security.

Among our common threats is international terrorism, the manifestations of which we feel constantly in different parts of the world. The most dangerous issue is connected with weapons of mass destruction (WDM) and the means of delivering such weapons. We believe that working together in this area could provide significant positive results. Today, our countries are part of an effective system used to combat terrorism. However, it is also clear that the roots of this phenomenon have not been destroyed yet.

It is not our decision to cease collaboration with our colleagues. It's their choice, and we’re not going to sit around crying about it. I firmly believe that our commitments to disarmament and non-proliferation of WMD are still in force, and we will carry them out, with or without NATO.

RD: With what countries does Russia have good prospects in the field of military and military-technical cooperation?

A.A.: First of all, we will develop our relations with partner countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

We have excellent relations with China, and, incidentally, the recent meeting between our two defense ministers (in Khujand, Tajikistan, on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) defense ministers' meeting) went well. We compared our positions and saw no discrepancies on matters of principle or tactics in strengthening global and regional security, and we will develop this interaction.

And then there’s India and the Asian Pacific Rim countries, whose response to the current situation has been, in our view, satisfactory. And there’s East and North Africa, and Latin America. We have already developed strong long-term partnerships in the military field with many of these countries.

RD: In May, you are organizing the 3rd Moscow Conference on International Security. What will be the main issues on the agenda? Are you concerned that sanctions could overshadow the event?

A.A.: Yes, they’re a nuisance, but they are more of a hindrance to Western countries and to America’s understanding of Russia’s position, including the Ministry of Defense’s position in relation to regional issues and global security. We will hold the conference under any circumstances.

Given recent events, the importance of this forum, in which the Ministry of Defense plays a leading role, is increasing. We are prepared to talk on any topic on international and regional security.

Every year we highlight a particular aspect of security that we consider essential at this moment. Two years ago, it was the problem of anti-missile defense.

Last year, we discussed European security, including a possible future mechanism for conventional arms control in Europe. This May, the discussions will focus on the theme of “color revolutions” in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as on Afghanistan.

We expect visitors from more than 40 countries. In total, the conference will be attended by about 300 delegates.

We have already received confirmation from nine defense ministers of foreign countries. At a time when European countries have decided to boycott our conference, a very special interest in attending the conference has appeared from the states of Asia and the Middle East. As in previous years, we will be visited by high-level representatives from the defense ministries of the CIS countries.

RD: Did the events in Ukraine have an influence on the conference agenda, and will this issue be included in the event’s program?

A.A.: Of course, the topic of Ukraine will be there – one way or another, it will hover over our forum. The events in that country have attracted the attention of the entire international community, and especially the defense departments and military experts.

However, we wish to offer people to look more broadly at this problem, through the prism of the main theme of the conference – “color revolutions.” We believe that it is very timely to analyze the implications of such “color revolution” scenarios for global and regional security, including in the post-Soviet space. We shall attempt to understand the implications of the “Arab Spring” for the Middle East and North Africa.

I want to emphasize that this issue is of concern not only in Russia. It disturbs many of our colleagues from military sectors in other countries as well.