Interview with Dmitry Peskov

On the eve of Vladimir Putin's arrival at the Russia-NATO Council session in Bucharest, Dmitry Peskov, First Deputy Press Attache to the Russian President, discussed the council's agenda exclusively with RT.

Russia Today: As a result of the summit Russian and NATO officials will have an idea how relations between Russia and NATO will develop in future. Russia has its own vision. Right now it seems cooperation exists, but at the same time, it's not a comprehensive programme. So can Russia count on a full partnership here?

Dmitry Peskov:I would disagree with you that we don't have a systematic framework for cooperation. Actually, we have a very good background. The main issue now is how to solve the problem of NATO's looking for its new identity. This would answer the new challenges we’re all facing. Let's not forget that NATO isn't a political alliance. It's a military and defensive bloc that was born during the Cold War, during a time of confrontation, and NATO's whole system has been formed with a view to acting in conditions of confrontation. However, currently we don't have any direct military threat. Instead, we have new types of threats that can't be fought single-handedly. These include terrorism, the spread of religious extremism and drug-trafficking, all of which require joint-efforts, and this is actually what Russia is in favour of.

RT: And what are the obstacles?

D.P.: Well, we have some disagreements in terms of the existing NATO policy of 'open doors'. We also have some disagreements in terms of NATO's mission. We’ve a complete disagreement in terms of NATO's pretending to be an instrument of democracy. We don't think the policy of 'open doors' enhances democracy in any region. We have the example of the Baltic States. Their joining the alliance hasn’t led to the strengthening of democracy there. We’re witnessing the splash of Nazism there. We all know there are many problems with national minorities there. These are conceptual disagreements between NATO and Russia, but it doesn't mean that we don't have a mutual background for cooperation. Also the fact that President Putin is going to take part in the summit shows that Russia is basing its position on a constructive approach. We understand there are some differences between Russians and NATO approaches, but we are ready to listen to our partners' arguments and we are ready to highlight our own concerns and present new ideas for further cooperation.

RT: Do you think NATO is offering the wrong MAP (Membership Action Plan) for Georgia and Ukraine?

D.P.:In our understanding NATO is definitely offering something wrong. It's not about Russia being unhappy about this. What's important is that the people in these countries aren’t happy with the move. The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians are strictly against joining NATO. It doesn't mean they are against getting closer to liberal values or being an integral part of European security. It doesn't presuppose membership in NATO. If we take Georgia and the country's two republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia didn't take part in the referendum on joining NATO. The populations in both republics are strictly against membership in NATO. This won't add to peace and stability in the region. It can only lead to the further disintegration of the country. Georgia is Russia's neighbour and we stand for protecting its territorial integrity, but we’re concerned that the opinion of the populations of these republics will be neglected. All this looks very artificial. It looks like these countries are being dragged into NATO. These are not countries that have expressed the will to join NATO, but just the governments of these countries. This has nothing to do with democracy. This won't help to strengthen an atmosphere of mutual trust between NATO and Russia.

RT: Is there any condition under which Russia would accept Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO?

D.P.: It’s wrong to assume that Russia is seeking the right of veto. Certainly we don't have such a right in the alliance and we aren't seeking one, but we have the right to expect reciprocity. We are trying to be constructive with our partners. We have the right to hope that our voice is heard by our partners. But when we see a complete refusal to listen to us, when we see a refusal to first speak and then to act, it certainly doesn't make us happy. This should be understandable to everyone. We aren't demanding anything. We just use our right to bring our concerns to the table of negotiations. And we do hope that political wisdom will prevail. We know that a number of NATO members are more flexible in terms of listening to our concerns.
We know that NATO isn't united over the issue. This will be discussed during the summit and the results of the discussions will contribute to a successful dialogue within the NATO-Russia council.

RT: NATO is believed to often follow the lead of the U.S. Do you think there is a difference between NATO-Russia relations and the U.S.-Russia relations?

D.P.: I don't think I'm entitled to speak about an overwhelming lead of a single country within the alliance, but certainly U.S.-Russia relations are extremely important not only for our two countries but also for global understanding. The better the understanding between Moscow and Washington is, the easier it is to solve existing problems on the global agenda. That's why we hope that the coming meeting between the two presidents in Sochi will be successful.

RT: For Russia's President-elect Dmitry Medvedev this is his first international outing. Some experts believe that he'll take a milder approach. They also say that Putin's stance on the international policy is too tough. What do you say about that?

D.P.: Defending Russia's national interests is one of the main duties of any head of the state. We have no doubt this will remain important for all levels of power in Russia. No-one is going to take any backward steps or show more flexibility. In being tough, President Putin never felt a lack of flexibility, constructiveness or pragmatism in his approach. He demanded fair play, taking into account each other’s concerns and avoiding double standards. And these are the only values that will ensure the successful domestic development of the country and a rise of living standards in Russia.