Russian media is discussing this interview actively today.
Question: Mr Ryabkov, is there any predictability in relations with the United States today?
Sergey Ryabkov: There is one-sided negative predictability, in fact. As for any prospects for improvement, everything is completely unpredictable. This is a sad conclusion based on the results of the long journey that we have travelled with the current US administration, with Donald Trump, and with Barack Obama. These problems did not emerge yesterday. They have to do with the US tendency, by and large, to deny Russia the role of a major independent player in international relations while trying to impose its own approaches to a whole range of issues, including how we should live in our own country.
All of the above certainly limits our prospects for straightening out relations – at least at the present stage, I would not risk giving any optimistic forecasts. We can definitely say there is predictability in that we will have to continue to deal with just this kind of America and this kind of American policy. And we are ready for this.
Question: Does this mean we cannot expect any transformation of the US approach to relations with Russia?
Sergey Ryabkov: We cannot see any progress, with the exception of the launch of several structured dialogues in areas that are certainly important as pivotal aspects of international security – I am referring to strategic stability and ICT security. Even so, we have just created channels for dialogue, and it would be premature to say that we are going to reach some global, significant, breakthrough decisions in the process. We are working towards this; we are striving for this, calling on the Americans to take a responsible approach to international security. We hope that our calls and signals will be heard. At the same time, we will not try and add issues that are not related to strategic stability, ICT security to the mix – such as our bilateral difficulties regarding visas and the activity of foreign missions. These are important questions as well, but we must not allow one to become dependent on the other. We will work where opportunities arise, where the Americans at least try to heed common sense and listen to our approaches.
Question: Can you tell us about progress on the New START Treaty?
Sergey Ryabkov: New START has been extended for five years. However, the first of these five years will expire on February 5, 2022. We have launched a dialogue on strategic stability, which will hopefully lead to the signing of a document or several documents that would be a good replacement for New START, which expires in four years.
We are working quite well within the framework of New START, holding meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission. The practice of mutual inspection visits will resume as the sanitary situation improves. Meanwhile, we are exchanging information in full measure and issuing notifications in accordance with the treaty. In short, work is proceeding well.
As for the other areas, there have been some wrinkles, which we are working to remove.
Question: How would you explain the growth in tension over Ukraine?
Sergey Ryabkov: It is primarily Washington’s geopolitical project, an attempt to expand its sphere of influence by getting new instruments for strengthening its positions, which Washington hopes will eventually allow it to dominate this region. It is also a way of creating problems for us by endangering our security. We have openly pointed out that there are red lines which we will not allow anyone to cross, and we also have certain requirements, which have been formulated exceedingly clearly. I believe everyone is aware of the signal President Vladimir Putin issued that Moscow needs maximally reliable legal guarantees of security. The President has instructed the Foreign Ministry to thoroughly address this matter. We are doing this. In particular, we are preparing definitive proposals and ideas, which we will submit for consideration by the Americans, and possibly their allies.
Question: Is it possible to mark red lines jointly with the United States?
Sergey Ryabkov: I believe that this is inherently impossible. There is such a wide gap in our approaches to international affairs and priorities in the so-called Euro-Atlantic that common red lines are unthinkable. There is only one red line we have marked jointly, which is very good. I am referring to the unacceptability of a nuclear war. By adopting the relevant statement issued by our leaders last June, Russia and the United States pointed out that they are aware of their joint responsibility. There will be no winners in a nuclear war, which must never be waged. This has been emphasised most definitely. I believe that this is a major positive factor during the current alarming period in international relations.
As for geopolitical red lines, no, we are rivals and opponents in this sense, and we will not suggest that the Americans do anything like this. We will demand that they do not cross our red lines, which we mark based on our national interests.
Question: Russia has mentioned the unacceptability of NATO’s eastward expansion. The bloc has replied that it has an open-door policy, and that any country complying with its membership principles can join it. What is Moscow’s attitude to this?
Sergey Ryabkov: This is really one of the biggest problems in the Euro-Atlantic region. NATO’s unrestrained expansion over the past decades has shown that Western advances, promises and commitments are of little value unless they are legally formalised. Soviet and later Russian leaders were told by responsible officials that NATO would not expand eastwards. We see that the situation is diametrically opposite.
NATO says that every country is free to decide how to guarantee its security, up to and including by joining military-political alliances. I would like to point out that the freedom to join alliances cannot be absolute. It is as it is in human societies, your freedom ends where the freedom of others begins. There must be clear boundaries and mutual obligations and responsibilities. This is why the phrase about the freedom to join alliances is always balanced by the phrase that this must not be done at the expense of the security of other states. This is the underlying principle of the OSCE, for example.
Regrettably, NATO’s expansion has long come into a dramatic conflict with this principle. We will continue to tell our opponents, both NATO states and the non-members, which would like to join the alliance, that it is impossible to do both things simultaneously. Therefore, there should be no further expansion of NATO. The attempt to present the matter by saying that Russia has no right of veto here is a futile attempt. We will continue to say that if our opponents act contrary to this truth, they will not strengthen their security but will instead face grave consequences.
Question: How does the alliance explain the need to move eastwards?
Sergey Ryabkov: There are no arguments. Moreover, they are trying to deny the validity of the very question of NATO’s eastward expansion. They are rejecting the opportunity to discuss this issue ostensibly as a matter of principle. But this is a mistake that could weaken their own security.
Question: Joseph Biden announced his readiness to discuss with Russia its concern over NATO’s expansion. When and in what format might consultations on this issue take place?
Sergey Ryabkov: We see the US readiness to continue discussing this issue, and this is a good sign. We have well-established channels – our dialogue with the United States is conducted in various areas. For one thing, there are the consultations on strategic stability, which I mentioned. Two working groups are involved in this.
One of them will be dealing with actions that exert a strategic effect. Understandably, security guarantees and non-crossing of red lines is exactly what we are talking about now. These are actions with a strategic effect.
We have channels of political dialogue with the United States as well. There are also formats of cooperation and discussion of these issues with NATO countries – albeit, not with all of them but with some, they are active, and we will probably use these formats eventually, as well.
Finally, the OSCE Forum for Security is operating as a pan-European venue in Vienna. After all, the venue of our dialogue doesn’t matter as much. What matters is the gist of our discussion.
For the time being, we do not quite understand how serious our opponents are. Therefore, we still need to conduct some probing surveys to find this out.
I would like to express the hope that this process will lead to a dramatic improvement in the entire strategic stability situation. We are talking about global security, including Russia’s. NATO and the US have now focused on the allegedly threatening concentration of our troops and hardware along the border with Ukraine. But permit me, in the first place, they are talking about our actions on our own territory. Is there a limit to geopolitical audacity, not to say, the impudence of those who are trying to dictate to us regarding what we can and cannot do within our own borders?
There is a second, no less important point: they are concentrating on specific developments in certain areas whereas we lay emphasis on the need to ensure security on a broad scale for decades to come. They are using a microscope whereas we are looking forward through binoculars in an effort to prevent unfavourable developments in the future.
Question: Do you know the date for talks on visa issues with the United States? What objectives is the Russian Federation pursuing in its consultations with Washington on this? Is there a chance to make any progress in this area by the end of this year or the beginning of the next?
Sergey Ryabkov: I sympathise with those who are having difficulties with US visas, and I would like to emphasise that the current situation in this area reflects the reluctance of the US to take obvious and very simple decisions. That is, to send the personnel necessary within the quota to Russia, a quota that has been in place for a long time and which has not been filled – neither in Moscow at the Embassy’s Consular Department, nor at the Consulates General in Yekaterinburg or Vladivostok – so they can restore regular service for Russian citizens. Instead, they maintain their absurd accusations to the effect that we are allegedly putting obstacles in the way of this. We haven’t done this; we just cannot unilaterally issue visas to Americans while our personnel cannot enter the United States because visa issuance to diplomatic personnel and holders of service passports has, in fact, been frozen.
It is a vicious cycle. We continue to suggested to the Americans a mutual resetting to restart normal operations at foreign missions. Instead they have ever more requests and ultimatums. The most questionable among them was the request that our diplomatic mission staff who have been in the United States for over three years need to leave. Why, on earth, three and not five years? We are forced to mirror their actions.
Unless the situation in this area changes, US staff here will have to leave here after the same time period. This may simply result in our foreign missions becoming unable to operate any more.
As for meetings, we expect the Americans to regard our proposals seriously – we have made a lot of them. As soon as they respond, we will be ready to arrange the consultations within the shortest notice possible: by the end of this year, by the end of December. So far the United States has yet to give a proper response. We call on them again to resolve this issue and this intolerable situation. It hurts not only our compatriots but also US citizens themselves, who also cannot get timely consular services.
Question: After the last Russian-US video summit we heard that contacts will continue in a different format. Are there any timeframes or understanding as to when such a meeting can take place?
Sergey Ryabkov: So far, no. However, the main thing is that we achieved an understanding about the need to maintain contact whether it is in a video format, by telephone or, of course, a face-to-face meeting. Still, it is too early to talk about specifics. Let’s first move at least toward implementing what the leaders talked about on December 7. Once again: the Foreign Ministry is working on this very closely, in accordance with our instructions.