MOSCOW, September 9 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and the United States, as well as other NATO members, should halt the Cold War rhetoric over Ukraine and return to collaboration in order to fight more important threats to human security, Former NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Strategic Communications Michael Stopford told RIA Novosti in an interview Tuesday.
“I wouldn’t underestimate the dangers of escalation of this [Ukrainian] problem, but I can’t help but think people must be able to see beyond the immediate conflict, and see the common interest of coming back to the situation where there is collaboration, where there is common economic growth, there are so many things to be shared. I cannot see how there cannot be a return to more cooperation and more constructive future for all the countries concerned,” Stopford said on the sidelines of the World US-Russia Forum, held in Moscow on Monday and Tuesday.
Stopford, who left the alliance three years ago and went into private business, no longer represents NATO’s opinion, but follows the organization’s actions closely.
The recent NATO summit in Wales, where allies discussed the conflict in southeastern Ukraine and Russia’s relation to it, yielded encouraging results, Stopford said.
Although the declaration, issued shortly after the last week summit had “some strong language,” the overall tone of the alliance’s message favored more cooperation rather than disagreements with Russia.
“In the declaration it says, word for word, that NATO would still value a strategic partnership with Russia. It also says NATO is ‘not seeking confrontation with Russia.’ Although all the newspapers say it’s a summit that is bringing confrontation… with Russia, if you look at the declaration carefully, it doesn’t say that,” Stopford said.
The former NATO communications chief also worked on the alliance’s science program, and was one of the organizers for the St. Petersburg test project to detect suicide bombers, which was put on hold after the Ukrainian crisis erupted earlier this year.
In 2011, there was mutual work countering the global terrorism, the pirates in Somalia, Afghanistan, environmental security, and reaching out to the Arab world.
“NATO was quite active in considering global security activities that had nothing to do with historical war activities, that had nothing to do with Russia. There was quite a lot of focus on partnership, which I found very encouraging, and certainly a long way away from the Cold War era,” he added.
“[Now], there is much more of tight language than you would have seen after the Cold War, and I don’t find it helpful, and I hope it doesn’t last. Because there are common threats to people’s security and livelihood, and well-being in Western countries, in Western Europe, in Eastern Europe, in the US, and frankly, I believe in Russia, as well,” he said, naming such radical groups as “the ISIS that is beheading totally innocent people,” al-Qaeda, Taliban, Boko Haram, as well as the climate change, the deadly Ebola virus, and other issues.
“You have to have a longer perspective, and I do not think Ukraine will be the main subject of international concern over the long-run,” Stopford said, adding that “In a year, things will look differently.”
Although many experts insist the United States and Russia have entered Cold War II, there is no “impending threat of horrible nuclear hostilities,” Stopford said, and that is what differentiates the current situation between the countries from a few decades ago.
“We are living in the era of shades of grey, not black and white today. And I do not think you can view anything through that prism anymore. There are more important and worrying and challenging threats to global security and even to human security than any of this sort of Cold War rhetoric. It would be ridiculous to talk about a Cold War today,” he said.
Although the fighting between independence supporters and Kiev forces erupted in eastern Ukraine after the February 22 coup, the real turning point in the Western perception of the conflict and Russia’s alleged role in it, came nearly five months later – after the Malaysia Airlines plane crashed in the Donetsk region on July 17.
The international investigation into the incident that killed all 298 people on board, most of them Dutch nationals, continues. The United States and some other countries, however, blamed Moscow for the crash, saying the plane was shot down with a missile, supplied to Donetsk militia by Russia. The Kremlin denied the allegations, but the public opinion had already been formed in the West.
“In the West, the most terrible thing that caught people’s attention was the shooting down of that Malaysian airplane MH17. Because that showed how totally innocent people, for instance, these Dutch civilians, who had nothing to do with anything, were all killed because of this conflict. I’m not pointing the finger because investigations are continuing, but one day, those who are responsible for that shooting down of that plane have got to pay. And I think they have got to be held accountable,” Stopford said.
“From the point of view of public opinion in the West, it was that single event that made people much more concerned than they were up to then,” he added.
On Tuesday, the Dutch Safety Board released the preliminary report on the MH17 investigation, saying the plane broke into pieces mid-flight after being hit by “a large number of high-energy objects." Stopford said, any findings by the Dutch were trustworthy.
“My personal opinion of Holland is that it is a very strong and objective, and impartial country, maybe a member of NATO. I don’t think the Dutch government would falsify any [information]. I would totally trust the Dutch government’s findings personally,” he said.
With the conflict in Ukraine escalating over the summer until the recently established ceasefire, Kiev authorities had expressed a desire for the country to join NATO. But Stopford said, the alliance is unlikely to admit any new member in the near future, especially Ukraine.
“I don’t think Ukraine will join NATO. The overall political sentiment, even amongst the current NATO membership, would not be in favor of immediate action towards Ukraine joining NATO. I don’t think there will be much change in the NATO membership, frankly,” he said, insisting that only a dialogue between Russia and Ukraine could save the situation.
“The important thing to do is to find a way of maintaining a dialogue with Russia, in seeing how all the countries can manage their own affairs and become prosperous and successful, in a way that is also in Russia’s interest,” he said.
NATO has been sending temporary forces to the territories close to the Russian border saying it needed to protect the allies from a potential Russian threat. At the Wales summit, the alliance’s members discussed setting up the so-called Rapid Response Forces, with the necessary equipment available on site in case of a conflict. And Stopford said, NATO would not go further than that in approaching Russia.
“There is talk [in the declaration] about this Rapid Reaction Force, but it doesn’t talk about placing troops in neighboring country. There is a reaction to what the majority of the NATO countries perceive as what’s going on in Ukraine at the moment,” he said.
“Let’s hope that with the ceasefire, with the latest EU sanctions on hold, there will now be a de-escalation. I find it in all of our interests, and I hope there will be a return to a more cooperative atmosphere. I don’t see even a confrontation frankly,” he added.
Stopford also said, media should change the approach to the situation, as there is an “unhelpful emphasis on the conflict and the differences” in the press, “and not enough about possible ways ahead,” Stopford said.
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