Interview with Russia's Ambassador to NATO 'The Attempt to Push Georgia into NATO Is a Provocation'

Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, 44, spoke with SPIEGEL about Moscow's opposition to membership for Ukraine and Georgia in the Western alliance, the threat of an arms race and potential cooperation between Moscow and the West to help stabilize Afghanistan.

SPIEGEL: Ukraine and Georgia are pushing to become membership candidates at the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest in early April. Last week this led to a heated debate among NATO foreign ministers -- many of whom are afraid of Russia’s reaction. Should they be worried?

Dmitry Rogozin: Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO membership bid is backed by the most radical forces in the United States administration, the neoconservatives. In Georgia, however, President Mikhail Saakashvili has established a tyrannical system: There is massive suppression of the opposition and the media.

SPIEGEL: The Georgians don’t think Russia can lecture them on democracy.

Rogozin: If people in Brussels and Washington think that Georgia is a democracy, they’re deluding themselves. Should Georgia become, under pressure from the US, a NATO member, it would cease to be a sovereign state because two of its provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, won’t join the Western Alliance.

SPIEGEL: Both regions are effectively Russian protectorates. Moscow has stationed peacekeeping troops there, the majority of the population has Russian passports ...

Rogozin: ... which we haven’t forced on them. It is not we who intend to take possession of foreign territories -- rather it is Abkhazia and South Ossetia that want to belong to Russia. If Georgia joins NATO, it will permanently lose these regions.

SPIEGEL: Because Moscow will intervene?

Rogozin: We cannot stand by idly. Abkhazia and South Ossetia share close ties with the Caucasian peoples in Russian territory. The attempt to push Georgia into NATO is a provocation that could lead to bloodshed.

SPIEGEL: Ukraine is also aspiring to become a NATO member. Why do you also object to that?

Rogozin: The majority of Ukrainians don’t want to enter NATO. The east and the south, especially Crimea, strictly oppose it. Only western Ukraine would join NATO. Eastern Ukraine would in this case become independent or a de facto state like Abkhazia.

SPIEGEL: You think that Ukraine would break up?

Rogozin: I can’t rule out that the country would split apart. That would entail destabilization. And that can’t be in the interests of the Europeans.

SPIEGEL: President Putin is planning to attend the summit in Bucharest. Will he read the riot act to the alliance -- as he did last year at the Munich security conference?

Rogozin: The president debated at length over whether he should even accept the invitation -- because of the scandalous behavior of certain NATO countries. But not taking part would have meant disappointing European partners who share common views with us.

SPIEGEL: You are referring primarily to Berlin?

Rogozin: The Germans and the Russians see many things similarly. In contrast to the US, we have experienced war on our soil and we know that we jointly bear a large responsibility.

SPIEGEL: The relationship between Russia and NATO is more strained than it has been since the demise of the Soviet Union. Is there a danger of a new arms race?

Rogozin: There already is one, and it’s in full swing. The best example of this is the planned US missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. These are more than just radar installations that can spy on Russia -- these are missiles. Allegedly, the system is aimed at Iranian missiles. But these don’t even exist: Israel and the US would never allow Iran to have nuclear warheads. They place weapons right under our nose and then maintain that they are not pointed at us. That is a lie and a hostile act.

SPIEGEL: How will your country react?

Rogozin: We are negotiating with the Americans and the Poles over guarantees that these installations will not be aimed at us. And we’re proposing a joint missile defense system. If that is rejected, we will have to point our missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic.

SPIEGEL: Putin has suspended the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe treaty (CFE). Is the Kremlin no longer interested in arms control?

Rogozin: We are very interested in arms control, particularly since we have far fewer weapons than the NATO countries. Russia ratified the CFE in 2004. If our partners in the West don’t approve it by the end of the year, we’ll need a new treaty.

SPIEGEL: According to an unpublished report by Russian military intelligence, NATO forces in southern Afghanistan are in a similar hopeless situation as the Soviets were two years before they withdrew their troops in 1989. Does that give you a sense of satisfaction?

Rogozin: Not at all. We support the anti-terror campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida. I hope we can manage to reach a series of very important agreements with our Western partners at the Bucharest summit. We will demonstrate that we are ready to contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. But we’ve told the Americans all along: Don’t repeat the mistakes of the Soviet Union. If you think you can instruct the Afghans in American democracy, you’ll fail -- just as we did when we tried to drum Communism into their heads.

Interview conducted by Uwe Klussmann

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