News Conference following NATO-Russia Council Meeting

November 20, 2010, 20:30 Lisbon

QUESTION: Mr President, many people, both analysts and NATO country leaders, have already called this a historic summit and a turning point in relations between Russia and NATO. Do you agree with this assessment? Does this mean that you have succeeded in explaining Russia’s position to the NATO members, and how were these explanations received?

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: My colleagues were not short of words to describe this summit today, and this is probably no bad thing. I too used the term ‘historic’ to describe it, referring to the long way we have come, shedding some of the illusions we perhaps had back in the 1990s, and entering the period of productive construction that the start of this decade ushered in.

This was followed by a period when serious differences emerged, cooling our relations. Now we are starting to build up our cooperation, and so I would agree overall that this is indeed an important stage in building a full and productive partnership between Russia and NATO.

Incidentally, even the declaration approved at the end of our talks states that we seek to develop a strategic partnership. This is not a chance choice of words, but signals that we have succeeded in putting the difficult period in our relations behind us now.

The documents set out the specific results achieved at this summit, but I will say a few words on the main points. First, we noted that the period of distance in our relations and claims against each other is over now. We view the future with optimism and will work on developing relations between Russia and NATO in all areas. There are, however, some key areas that are equally important for NATO and its individual member states, and for Russia.

They cover our cooperation in a range of areas: fighting terrorism, which is one of the biggest threats humanity faces today (and it is not for nothing that we approved a common list of threats our countries face), drug trafficking, piracy, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We have practically no differences on any of these issues.

I remind you that even during the most complicated period, when relations between our countries were strained after the Caucasus crisis in 2008, our counterterrorism cooperation never stopped, and for me, this was a deliberate policy choice. True, it was sometimes far from easy to really hear what each other was saying back then, but we nonetheless managed to pursue our cooperation in this area. All the more so we will continue it now. We will continue to work together productively to address all the challenges we face, and indeed, we have accomplished much already. 

Another important and much discussed issue is European missile defence. Clearly, we are looking at what appears to be a whole new situation here. The Europeans themselves and the NATO member countries do not have a final picture yet of just what this come to, what this system will look like, and even what it will cost. But everyone realises now that overall, only universal missile defence systems offer any real value, and not systems built to protect particular countries only, or covering particular military theatres only. We had an interesting discussion on this issue today. I will perhaps say a bit more on this later, but at any rate, we agreed to definitely continue this work. 

We discussed cooperation in Afghanistan. This is another issue that is extremely important for Russia and no less important of course for NATO and for the countries, NATO countries and others, helping to ensure security in Afghanistan. Things are very positive in this area, and again, even during the low point in our relations we did not break off our cooperation but continued to allow transit of non-military supplies via Russian territory. We continued discussing the transit question today and looked at the various options for transit of supplies, including military supplies, via the Russian Federation.   

As far as the traditional issues on the Russia-NATO cooperation agenda go, the situation is looking good. We do still have our differences on some issues. One of the biggest differences is in our respective positions regarding the events of 2008, the events of August 2008, and the geopolitical changes that resulted, in particular, the emergence of two new independent countries – South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 

But we noted too that this issue should not become a stumbling block in our relations. We will continue to discuss this matter, and we hope that these discussions will be productive, for this is the only way to work towards guaranteeing peace in the Caucasus and in Europe in general. We are ready to continue these discussions, aware that Russia remains committed to its position on this issue, and the NATO countries likewise remain committed to their respective positions.

There are other areas in which we have our differences, but to be honest, they are not so many, and we have agreed that these issues must not be allowed to undermine our relations. On the contrary, we need to work together on finding solutions to these complicated situations, and listen to each other’s points of view. Summing up, I can affirm that this NATO-Russia Council meeting was indeed a major step in strengthening our relations and really is a historic event, because all kinds of new ideas and new agreements are always part of world history.

QUESTION: Mr President, you just mentioned the missile defence issue and said that discussions will continue. You have said in the past that Russia is ready in theory to take part in a European missile defence system, but only as an equal partner. The NATO leaders were more than eager to hear what you would have to offer here at the summit. What proposals did you make? What is Russia’s position right now, and how were your proposals received by your colleagues? 

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: This is indeed a very important issue. It was at the centre of attention, and I devoted a large part of my address to the idea of a European missile defence system.

Circumstances were such that the world developed for some decades on the basis of the nuclear deterrent concept. I won’t go into whether this was a good or bad thing just now. In any event, there are always differing views on this matter. No one likes nuclear weapons, but at the same time, nuclear weapons helped to preserve peace in Europe for several decades. But the development of missile defence systems could change the existing balance, and this would benefit neither Europe nor the world in general. This is why we were always so very cautious about all of these missile defence ideas.

You remember how the Russian Federation reacted when the US administration, the previous administration, proposed creating a third ballistic missile defence launching area. Russia took a very firm line against this idea, and it did so because no matter what people may tell us, it was, and still is, our view that this plan was directed primarily against Russia’s interests, and defence against potential uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons by other countries, or missile attacks by these countries, was only a secondary concern, all the more so as it is not even entirely clear just what potential missile attacks we are talking about.   

But we should give credit to the current United States administration for having the courage to abandon these plans for a third launching area. The Russian Federation in turn abandoned its plans to deploy missiles and build a radar station in Kaliningrad Region. I think that this did a lot to defuse the atmosphere and enable us to start discussing missile defence as something not directed against an individual country or group of countries, but as a global system to protect us against missile attacks. But I remind you that countries still have their nuclear forces in place today, and when we look at missile defence we have to look too at the possible effects a European missile defence system could have on our nuclear forces.

Our position is therefore quite simple. If we all work on a missile defence system together it should be a system that does not undermine the existing balance. It is clear, after all, that if missile defence were to push the nuclear balance one way or the other this would lead to a new arms race. In this sense, the missile defence idea has the potential to be constructive, and also dangerous.

As far as the European missile defence plans are concerned, at least, in the form in which the NATO countries discussed them today, to be frank, we still need to get a full picture of just what this system will entail. The European countries themselves need to work out what their place will be in this system and how it will all look in the end, what kind of European missile defence will result if all is completed, say, by 2020.

For our part, we need to work out our place in this system too, and of course our position is that Russia would participate only on an absolutely equal basis. I would go further and say that Russia would participate only as a partner. Any other kind of participation, for the sake of appearances, as they say, would not be acceptable. Either we are fully involved, exchanging information and taking responsibility for particular areas, or we do not take part at all. But if we do not take part at all, it is understandable that we would have to take defensive measures accordingly. 

This explains why Russia drew up and presented a whole series of ideas on the conditions under which Russia would take part in a European missile defence system. These conditions are equality, transparency, technological involvement and responsibility for particular tasks. We proposed building a sector-based missile defence system. This is something that requires further analysis and we did not insist today on receiving a rapid response. We realise that various countries could have their own views and put forward their own arguments regarding the idea of dividing responsibility within the framework of a European missile defence system. 

But if this idea were indeed to go ahead, Russia would certainly see the sense in taking part in this whole undertaking, and if we had our share of the responsibility, we would certainly be ready for full cooperation with our partners. We agreed to continue our discussions on this European missile defence issue with our NATO partners, and I had separate talks on the same matter with the leaders of France, Germany, Britain, and several times with President Obama. The door is not closed now, but on the contrary is open for discussion, only the results of this discussion must be clear and acceptable for Russia. We will therefore definitely continue these talks.

QUESTION (retranslated): President Obama spoke of the reset in relations between the USA and Russia, and today’s summit has been called a reset in relations between NATO and Russia. You said that you are optimistic about the future here, but could you tell us, what would happen to this reset if the US President is unable to get the New START Treaty ratified in Washington?  

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: This would be very unfortunate because it would mean that the hard work a lot of people have put into bringing about not just this reset in Russian-US relations, but also in Russia-NATO relations would have been in vain.

I hope that the lawmakers in the United States will take a responsible approach, all the more so as the New START Treaty will benefit not just Russia, but the United States too, not to mention other countries as well. I won’t hide that I discussed this matter with President Obama just 40 minutes ago, and he said that he will work actively on this with Congress. I hope that his efforts will be successful, because if we fail to move forward here it is clear that this would not make the world any safer. I am confident, however, that reason will prevail and that the needed decisions will be taken. 

We will act in symmetry with the United States on this. I said to President Obama right from the start that the Russian parliament would act in accordance with the decisions taken by the US Congress, because this treaty is in our common interest and it is therefore also in our common interest to synchronise its ratification process.

QUESTION (retranslated): Do the agreements that you signed today with NATO signify that Russia trusts NATO? Does the fact that Russia is discussing missile defence with NATO indicate that you share the concerns of some Western countries regarding the threats posed by Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I said that the Council meeting that has just taken place and this NATO summit are historical events in the sense that they resulted in important decisions, above all for NATO itself. The approval of NATO’s strategic concept is an important part in the organisation’s development. I won’t hide that we followed this strategic concept’s drafting very closely. It contained things that surprised us and gave cause for some tension, but it also contained things that offer grounds for optimism. Ultimately, this is NATO’s internal affair, but at the same time, we are obviously not indifferent to the whole process. 

I think the final draft does reflect the NATO countries’ desire to build constructive relations with Russia and move towards a full-fledged partnership. This is good. We therefore think that we have made progress in developing our relations with NATO, despite the differences and difficulties that still remain to be resolved.

As for evaluation of threats, we have made a whole review that lists the potential threats we face, including unlawful proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the spread of such weapons around the planet, and missile threats. We are ready to work very closely with NATO on these issues, including with regards to the nuclear programmes certain countries are pursuing.

I met just recently with the Iranian president and we discussed bilateral Russian-Iranian relations, which for understandable reasons have not been so straightforward of late. I said to my colleague on that occasion that Iran must show goodwill. We realise that Iran is a sovereign and independent country with an ancient history and the desire to develop its own capability and economy, and it has the right to pursue a peaceful nuclear programme, but it must prove to the world that its programme to develop its nuclear industry really is peaceful, and that it is willing to cooperate with the international organisations, and above all with the IAEA.

In our assessment of the various threats we will work in the way I have just described, and will work very closely with the NATO countries on carefully following developments in the various programmes that various countries are carrying out. We are not indifferent to who is developing what, what shape the nuclear forces around the world are taking, who is already in the ‘nuclear club’, who is seeking to join, who is attempting to legitimise their membership of this club by claiming to have nuclear weapons, and who, on the contrary, is trying to hide such possession. We will cooperate on these and other issues.

QUESTION: Mr President, relations between Russia and NATO have never been smooth sailing, teetering between open hostility and cautious partnership. Now, judging by your statements, the two sides have agreed to make peace. Could you tell us what specific results you hope to see from this latest turn towards friendship?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: First of all, I would not want this to be just another turn that in the end only leads to yet another round of confrontation. This would not be good for Russia or for NATO. We are so closely interlinked today, for obvious reasons, that any change in one side’s position has a direct impact on the other side’s position. I just spoke about this with respect to the missile defence issue, which, if we fail to reach agreement, could lead in ten years, say, or perhaps even earlier, to a new spiral in the arms race.

We would not like this happen, and we hope that NATO takes the same view. As far as relations today are concerned, however, they really are quite good. We have made progress and we are talking about partnership. My colleagues used various terms in their speeches today, but overall, everyone spoke of the need to develop partnership relations, develop an alliance, and we even heard the term ‘union’. These are emotional words and are not yet reflected in actual documents, but this reflects the direction discussions are taking, despite the difficulties and contradictions that exist.

What do we hope for from all of this? We hope quite simply for normal, full-fledged relations with the NATO countries, and we hope that these relations will create the conditions for our countries to develop in peace and calm. We do not want to spend money on any arms race. We already did this once and the consequences were not very good for anyone, including the Soviet Union, as you know.

It is clearly in our interests therefore to be able to build a predictable defence strategy that takes into account the shape of our relations with NATO as one of the world’s major military and political blocs. If there are predictable, transparent and clear relations in which we have a clear picture of where we can work together, and where we can cooperate on issues such as European missile defence, it will be easier for us to set our policies, our economic policy, in accordance. Relations between Russia and NATO thus ultimately have an impact on ordinary Russians’ quality of life, and on ordinary Europeans’ quality of life too. There is plenty of discussion now on just how much the European missile defence system will cost, for example, because the crisis is still making itself felt and no one has much money to spare, but everyone realises that this system would have a high price tag. If we reached an agreement, decided to go ahead with work together, if the NATO countries accepted this decision, we could look at all of this, but we first need to be clear about the costs involved and just what it would all entail.

I therefore stress this point that good relations between Russia and NATO have a bearing on many things, including our countries’ economic development. We must not become carried away with building up excessive defence programmes, but need to think about the future, think about those building a new life today, think about our youth, think about education programmes. We need to think too about the least advanced countries in the world, think about how to help Africa. We can do these things if we have a clear picture of just what our defence budgets and programmes will cost us. This is why I think that developing our relations with NATO is so important not just for creating a better climate in the world, but for creating a better outlook for huge numbers of our citizens too. 

QUESTION: ...Concerning cooperation with Afghanistan and the troop withdrawal plan set to begin there in 2011 and end in 2014, do you think this is a realistic plan?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I already said that we are working actively with NATO on Afghanistan. We have our own dramatic experience in this country and we are not indifferent to Afghanistan’s future. We want to see a free, modern, effective and independent Afghanistan that respects its historic traditions and speaks a common language with the international community. I talked about this just before with President Hamid Karzai, and told him that Russia will continue to help Afghanistan in all different areas. We are putting serious effort into this, working on a bilateral and multilateral basis, helping the forces that are establishing security in Afghanistan. Today we discussed continuing our cooperation on transit. This is an important area and valuable to everyone. Moreover, we agreed to continue military and civilian transit, and reached new agreements on civilian transit and on transit of non-lethal equipment, including reverse transit of equipment withdrawn from Afghanistan to other countries’ territory.

We are continuing our cooperation in combating the drugs trade. This is a crucial issue for the Russian Federation because, unfortunately, almost all of the heroin and opiates produced in Afghanistan comes first of all into our country and then goes further into Europe. We think that this matter received insufficient attention earlier, and now we have started paying it greater attention. We are working together, carrying out joint operations with NATO countries. We are happy with these operations’ results and want to continue coordinated work in this area, together with the Afghan government of course. So far, this work is going quite well.

We will help Afghanistan to defend its national interests, including through bilateral assistance. We are ready to supply various types of equipment, and weapons too if needed, and we are doing this.

We are ready to work in economic areas too, and I hope that this component of our cooperation will receive a boost during the Afghan President’s upcoming visit to the Russian Federation next year. We are making good progress then in practically all areas of our cooperation here and have very good understanding with the NATO countries. I think we have accomplished much here over these last years. 

As for the question of 2011, it is hard for me to really assess just how realistic this kind of plan could be. I think that the situation in Afghanistan is still far from calm, to be honest, despite the huge effort the Afghan government and president are making. But Afghan society remains deeply polarised still, and the terrorist threat coming from this country also remains high. I therefore have my doubts about just how quickly these plans can be implemented, but ultimately, the decision lies with those who in their time decided to come to Afghanistan’s assistance. We hope that when the forces there are withdrawn Afghanistan will be able to develop independently as an effective state, and we will work towards achieving this objective.

QUESTION: This meeting is a historic event that marks a new stage in relations between Russia and NATO. In this new context, taking into account NATO’s new strategic concept and the cooperation between the two sides on countering modern threats, the talk of partnership, is it possible that Russia could some day join NATO, all the more so as you have said that Russia is drawing closer to the Western countries now? 

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: First of all, I want to thank the Portuguese presidency for giving us such good conditions for our work. I said this to Mr Socrates today. Everyone agreed that the atmosphere has changed, that we had a very open and democratic atmosphere and no problems at all in communicating. Today we said to each other everything that we had wanted to say but had feared to do so earlier, and this makes me optimistic about the future. This is really a very constructive approach. 

As for possible future steps, we cannot really see into the future of course, but at the moment, I cannot picture a situation in which Russia could actually join NATO. Things change, however, and NATO too is changing. If in the future it really does start to seek closer cooperation with Russia, I think that there are no closed subjects of discussion in this respect. We can discuss all possible options if we have our NATO partners’ corresponding goodwill and desire. In any event, our relations today have already become much closer and much more transparent and predictable, and this gives us reason to think that there is plenty of potential for developing these ties further. I certainly hope that we will continue this rapprochement in our positions on all different issues. In this respect I am more optimistic now, following this summit, than I was before.