SPIEGEL Interview With Russia's Defense Minister Moscow Wants to 'Participate as an Equal Partner'

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov discusses relations between his country and NATO, possible collaboration in the development of a missile defense system in Europe and resistance to the Kremlin's military reforms by the Russian officers' corps.


SPIEGEL: It's been 20 years since the end of the Cold War, and yet one issue remains unresolved: Russia's relationship with NATO. There is new hope, now that your president plans to attend the NATO summit in Lisbon at the end of November. Is it a breakthrough?

Serdyukov: Yes, we hope this meeting will give new momentum to relations between Russia and NATO.

SPIEGEL: What might a new relationship look like?

Serdyukov: There was a considerable chill after the August incidents …

SPIEGEL: … You are referring to the Russian-Georgian conflict of August 2008…

Serdyukov: But now we're talking with one another again -- at the level of the military chief of staff, the defense minister and the foreign minister. And we're working together again, too: in our fight against maritime piracy, in the training of specialists and in military maneuvers.

SPIEGEL: Is it fair to say Russia no longer sees NATO as an adversary?

Serdyukov: I assume that we will see it as a partner in the near future.

SPIEGEL: But Russia has just substantially increased its military budget and intends to almost double spending on new weapons. You are asking for 20 trillion rubles, or €476 billion ($662 billion), to fund the effort. Who does Russia see as a threat today?

Serdyukov: Terrorism is the biggest threat. We are also concerned about the transfer of technology for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. And, of course, the fact that NATO is getting closer to Russia's borders with its eastward expansion constitutes a military threat to our country. As far as our weapons go, the Russian army hasn't purchased any modern military equipment in recent years. Our weapons are largely outdated.

SPIEGEL: US President Barack Obama has shelved the American plan to build a missile defense system in Europe, together with Poland and the Czech Republic, to defend against Iranian mid-range missiles. Now a joint NATO missile shield is to be erected that will involve missiles with shorter ranges. The corresponding radar system wouldn't be capable of probing into Russian territory past the Ural Mountains. Does this reassure you?

Serdyukov: Of course we are pleased about the president's decision. We had already made a number of our own proposals. But the most important thing for us is to define the real threats for Europe. We also want to ensure that Russia participates as an equal partner. Only then can a missile defense system be created that satisfies all sides. That too will be discussed in Lisbon.

SPIEGEL: How exactly do you envision such a shield?

Serdyukov: Once again, we have to define the actual threat before we can talk about technical matters. Right now, the two sides take a very different view of the challenges and risks.

SPIEGEL: Now you're referring to Iran and its mid-range missiles?

Serdyukov: Our political assessments are very similar. But we're talking the technical possibilities. We don't share all of the West's views concerning the capabilities of the Iranian nuclear program.

SPIEGEL: For you, being on an equal footing also means that a Russian officer and a NATO counterpart would be pushing the button together when a missile approaches?

Serdyukov: We must exchange all necessary information, to clarify whether the actual situation coincides with data from our radar and the observation stations in Europe or other parts of the world.

SPIEGEL: The Americans are in fact quite far along with their plans. They mention four stages in which they will set up their SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles. They also know more or less where they'll be installed, and they're planning to build a radar system in Turkey. They don't seem to be waiting for Russia to come on board.

Serdyukov: If our fears are not taken into account, we will have to treat this as a hostile act against the Russian Federation -- and react accordingly.

SPIEGEL: To be clear, does that mean that you would return to your old scenario, which is to station modern Iskander missiles in the vicinity of Kaliningrad?

Serdyukov: That was what President (Dmitry) Medvedev announced two years ago, when the Americans wanted to build the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Thank God it didn't come to that. Now we have to find a version of the missile shield that's acceptable to all.

SPIEGEL: There are many skeptics in Russia, including military officials, who reject rapprochement with NATO. Will you be able to overcome the resistance?

Serdyukov: I am optimistic, because the political will exists. Many people didn't believe in the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and yet we managed to sign it this year.

SPIEGEL: Former German Defense Minister Volker Rühe advocated in SPIEGEL recently for Russia's admission to NATO. Can you imagine your country joining an organization that was established to protect itself against Moscow's attacks?

Serdyukov: The idea is premature, and I don't see any need for it, at least not in the near future. We should expand our cooperation. That's enough for now. Just as we have done for NATO's transit of military and civilian equipment across our territory to Afghanistan.

SPIEGEL: In Afghanistan, it's becoming clear that the West is also unable to bring peace to the country, and that it will have to withdraw without having accomplished anything, just as the Soviet Union once did. But will this threaten to destabilize the Central Asian region, your immediate neighborhood?


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