It is time for the West and Russia to start discussing mutual recognition of their military alliances, Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin told journalists on Friday (18 September).
Moscow asked the transatlantic alliance to establish ties with its own military union – the Organisation of the Treaty of Collective Security (OTCS) – saying that it wants its sphere of influence recognised.
Welcoming the fact that in his words, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had recognised the existence of Russian interests in a landmark speech (see 'Background'), Rogozin said Russia was saying 'thank you' but wanted words to be followed by deeds.
Speaking in Russian, Rogozin said it was time for NATO and the Organisation of the Treaty of Collective Security (OTCS), which regroups seven countries - Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan - to establish formal relations. Such formal ties would amount to recognition by the West that Russia too has a sphere of influence.
"We fail to understand why the USA can have a global sphere of influence, but Russia is denied even a regional sphere," Rogozin said.
NATO means the USA, because the Alliance is not the sphere of influence of Bulgaria or Romania, but of Washington, he added.
Worries about Afghanistan
Asked by EurActiv to develop his views on possible NATO-OTCS cooperation, Rogozin indicated that Russia and NATO had similar interests in Afghanistan, and OTCS was well-equipped to curb drug smuggling from that country to the region and throughout the world.
But he made it clear that Russia would not help NATO in Afghanistan by sending troops there. "We've already been in Afghanistan and we didn't like it," Rogozin said.
The Russian diplomat said Moscow was worried about calls for an exit strategy from Afghanistan, where NATO has a force named ISAF under a UN mandate.
"We hear hysterical statements [from European NATO members] about an exit strategy. But we didn't agree anything like this with NATO. They have a United Nations mandate in Afghanistan, let them implement it," Rogozin said.
"If NATO fails in Afghanistan, we will be faced with a catastrophic fundamentalist expansion in all countries in the region," he warned.
The top US commander in Afghanistan says in a confidential assessment of the war that without additional forces, the mission "will likely result in failure," the Washington Post reported on 21 September.
Asked to comment on Rasmussen's speech, Rogozin said it marked the willingness of the new NATO chief to "change the behaviours in NATO and maybe at world level in the last 20 years". However, he added that as an experienced diplomat, he could not sign a blank cheque.
"We have been starting anew already five or six times," he said, adding that a lot depended on the people, and complimented Rasmussen for being a political heavyweight compared to his predecessor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a former Dutch foreign minister.
In his words, the fact that Rasmussen had been prime minister of a "serious country" like Denmark and had good personal contacts with the Obama administration was "making a difference".
"I have a serious assumption that Washington was aware [of the messages delivered by Rasmussen] and has given its agreement," Rogozin said. Without naming Poland and the Czech Republic, who are feeling sidelined after the US changed its plans for a missile shield and no longer needs their involvement, he said "the resistance by those who want to keep a virtual Berlin Wall" will be overcome.
"We find ourselves on the threshold of important events," the Russian envoy concluded.