13:11 GMT28 February 2021
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    General Petr Pavel, the chairman of the NATO Military Committee (CMC), has spoken with a RIA Novosti correspondent about the alliance's relations with Russia, military drills, the situation in Syria, as well as NATO's expansion to the east.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: NATO-Russia Council was held last week. There are still talks between the ambassadors on the political level, but there is no talk between Military Representatives and military experts. According to Russian side, it is not possible to have a regular dialogue on such issues like transparency and risk reduction without the discussions between military experts. Is NATO interested in resuming such discussions?

    General Petr Pavel (CMC): NATO is interested in having continuous dialogue with Russia. Political level and good military communication at military level. I believe that both are necessary and we have to resume the dialogue to certain level as we had before the resumption [suspension] of cooperation in spring 2014. It is difficult to think about resumption of cooperation without conditions being changed. And the conditions haven’t changed so far, because there are still profound differences between Russia and NATO, especially when it comes to respect of international law and the rules of international community. And I believe that within the mandate we have today, that is to have top level military discussion, we can accommodate the issues that have to be discussed. That means risk reduction, transparency, avoidance to unnecessary escalation and incidents.

    We can obviously discuss these issues at top level to certain level of detail. However, I believe that top level discussion doesn’t automatically exclude the experts, because whenever we have a military issue, it will be discussed at top level. Both General Gerasimov, myself or General Scaparrotti will be accompanied by several experts to the issue. So we will have a top level discussion with the participation of experts. However, we are probably not yet at the stage where we would resume staff to staff level discussions, expert group to expert group level discussion, because we have to first rebuild the trust that has been shattered and lost over the last couple of years.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: And to rebuild the trust what do you need more? You spoke twice with General Gerasimov, General Scaparrotti spoke with him once and they will probably meet. What is lacking? What are you waiting to see to trust to be rebuilt for the conversation between the experts to be resumed?

    General Petr Pavel: If you ask – both sides. There is whole list of concerns that needs to be discussed. When I had a conversation with General Gerasimov in Baku in September, he raised at least ten different concerns in relation to NATO. I could have provided him with the same list from our side. So I believe there is a room for us to address these concerns one by one and to either dispel the myths or to come up to common vision of a problem. If we define it as a problem, then we will have to probably try to resolve it ourselves. If military level is not able to resolve it, then we will have to pass it to political level.

    There will be some issues that can be easily discussed, because we will be talking about posture of the troops, their mission, their tasks, their numbers and they are all verifiable. And if we find on both sides that we approach the discussion with the same level of reciprocity in terms of details, when we find out that both sides are presenting the facts as they are – not twisted or changed – then we can start talking about rebuilding the trust. That trust will then also transfer from military to political level. Only once we have this trust rebuilt, we can start discussing changing the level of discussion and potentially even going to expert to expert level discussions.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: To go to this level even before the political conditions are met? You talked about the differences on Ukraine and so on. Are you ready to go to expert level discussions without changing the situation in Ukraine?

    General Petr Pavel: I think our military experts will need a clear guidance and they will get it from both political and top military level. Up to now, we were only able to start a military conversation with General Gerasimov. And I believe that we first have to set the scene for the communication. We have to come up to at least some common picture of what we want to discuss, how we are going to approach it. And only then we can start thinking which experts will be part of our negotiating teams. Before that I would see the discussion at expert level rather counterproductive. With the exception of very specific areas such as Baltic Region Security Team that was discussing air safety. I think these fora, which are beyond NATO, but allow discussion at expert level, are very useful.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: And what exactly would you like to discuss during your next meeting or next phone call with General Gerasimov? What will be the phone call meeting, when do you expect it to be?

    General Petr Pavel: We have agreed with General Gerasimov that we will have further phone conversations occasionally, we will meet on ad hoc level even in person. There will be also similar meetings and phone calls with General Scaparrotti, with SACEUR. I believe the range of issues is quite broad. I already mentioned mutual concerns that we have expressed. They mostly relate to military posture and activities, such as forward presence deployment, such as new entities to be developed on both sides, military activities such as exercises and troop build-up, modernisation.

    There is a lot of issues for discussion. And I believe that there is a true value of military communication to discuss in detail all these activities that we can see within the big framework of risk reduction and transparency. And only once we discussed it and we let’s say deduct the broad scope of issues from those where we have a common understanding to those where some more clarity is needed, we will then narrow the scope for NRC to discuss. Because right now NRC is discussing very broad scope of all military activities, all military exercises and that of course that reduces the level of detail to which ambassadors can go. If we pre-discussed it at military level, if we clarify number of issues at military level, we focus discussion in NRC much better to only specific points that will be clearly defined, and the questions will be clearly defined and the concerns will be clearly defined. And it will provide NRC with much more detailed and focused discussions than today.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: Does it mean that the NRC meeting will be more frequent?

    General Petr Pavel: That’s up to NRC to decide.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: Speaking about the transparency. NATO has criticized Russia for Zapad exercise and says that there were much more troops involved than previously announced. What is your final figure in NATO? How many troops do you think participated in this exercise?

    General Petr Pavel: Well I think there is no need to count concrete figures, because the approach will always be different, so the final count will always differ. We believe that Zapad as it was defined by Russian side was much narrower than in reality. And that is probably that we haven’t defined what we mean by Zapad at the very beginning. We could see the whole series of exercises that were linked by scenario and all together created much bigger picture. It was more coherent than the only small exercise presented as Zapad by Russian and Belorussian side. And even some assets and capabilities used during Zapad were not consistent with the announced scenario for the exercise. Because when you see using strategic air force and naval assets to be used against terrorist groups, it simply doesn’t fit the picture. But we are discussing these issues both at political level and military level with our Russian counterparts to find out the way how in future to better discuss the exercises so that the picture is not confused and that we are clear what do we mean on both sides. We are ready on our side to discuss with our Russian counterparts our exercises. We expect the same level of transparency and open approach from Russian side. And if we stick to our military profession and are able to discuss military facts, I believe that we can come up with much better picture for political level to discuss.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: On Zapad you mentioned naval forces. So where do you think Zapad was held? Just in all over the Russia, in the Black Sea, Far East or just in the region between Russia and Belarus? What is your definition of Zapad exercise? The region, where it was held?

    General Petr Pavel: We saw the series of exercises that created one common picture to us united with one scenario at the strategic level was from High North to Black Sea with the assets of North fleet, Western military district, Southern military district with a number of elements and a number of training areas. And of course, it was not only based on our analysis, but it was also based on open source intelligence that was gathered even from interviews provided by Russian military and political leaders talking about different exercises being either linked or in parallel running the in same region or at the same time frame. It is just a matter of analysis and I believe that for next time, when we discuss bigger exercise, we have to start with definitions. So that we speak from the outset about the same things.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: One more question about transparency. You raised question of new military units. There are information that ministers of defence next week will adopt, will agree on the creation of two new commands in the NATO command structure that will be dealing with supply chains, defence and logistics. Can you confirm it and when and where they will be created?

    General Petr Pavel:  Well I think this information is not correct. What we are working about is NATO Command Structure adaptation. It is well known and it was announced in multiple press meetings by top leadership that NATO is assessing its Command and Force Structure to what extent it fits to current reality. Because this command structure was mostly based on the conditions that were valid a couple of years ago. And the security environment since then has changed. So we have to react on these changes. And one of these changes was study on functional review of current NATO Command Structure.

    And Strategic Commanders came to a conclusion that it needs some adaptation. And they offered basic outline design that is now being discussed in terms of functionality to meet all the requirements, including new security challenges, such as cyber, hybrid, terrorist and other activities that are not entirely new, but have come to a different level. And Ministers next month will get to their table this first outline design. I think it is premature talking about new headquarters or new structures, because this will be subject of next phase, that will be implementation options. So we are still not yet there.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: But you are discussing the possibility to create the two commands, two new commands or not yet?

    General Petr Pavel: There are many options being discussed and once again we are now in a period of discussion about this basic outline design not about implementation options.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: I’ve got a question on Syria because NATO criticized Russia’s role in Syria, military role, but there are a lot of common interests between Russia and NATO and Western Coalition. The first being the defeat of ISIL [Daesh, ISIS, banned in Russia] – do you think there is a possibility of cooperation between Russia and Coalition on some issues, for example, in securing the safe zones?

    General Petr Pavel: We have common interests in defeating terrorism, we have common interests in defeating extremism, and I believe that we will find even more common interests. However, the difference is in our approach and we have also different focus. And we can see it clearly in Syria and Iraq – the approach was different, and sometimes even focus on the actors that can lead us to the aim of defeating ISIL, was different. So at this point we would rather talk about de-confliction than direct cooperation, because we have to first align our views how to achieve the objectives, and then we can start talking about cooperation. Before that it would be very difficult.

    However there are some good elements, because there is a bilateral arrangement between Russia and United States who are leading the Coalition and in that sense there is also some de-confliction and coordination because NATO now being part of that Coalition, is part of the arrangement. So for future I believe that there is room for Russia and NATO to coordinate more, provided that we have common understanding what and how we want to achieve.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: How can this coordination go further? Shall it be discussed on your level for example? How do you think this cooperation, where can this cooperation be discussed to be real?

    General Petr Pavel: We have the format at political level, we have NRC, we have the military communication lines, so all these can be discussed once there is a concrete proposal. It can always be discussed at these two levels. For example, at the recent NRC, Ambassadors spent quite a lot of time discussing the security situation in Afghanistan and how both sides see it and what can and should be done in future, so I believe that this platform can also be used for potential coordination on Syria and Iraq.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: They never discussed Syria in NRC so are you awaiting some concrete proposals from Russian side or NATO can come up with its own proposals, procedures during the next NATO Russia Council meeting?

    General Petr Pavel: I believe that we will have now a number of high level meetings on the NATO side where Middle East in general, counter terrorism will be discussed, so and you are aware that all this region is in a very dynamic development, so Global Coalition against ISIL is now discussing how it is going evolve to new reality on the ground. US Central Command who is proposing how to go forward with the Coalition is now in the process of developing their plan. So I think we are now in the process of how to proceed with the situation. And once we have more clarity, I think we will also come to point how to discuss with other major actors who have the effect on the situation, including Russia.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: Syrian Military Commanders had, not once, not twice point to the Western-made weapons used by the ISIL militants that left the area. Do you think that some of these weapons were made, according to Syrian officials, by NATO Allied countries? Do you think that NATO Allied countries can do nothing to prevent terrorists from procuring and using this weaponry?

    General Petr Pavel: Well this is the issue that we can discuss from all the sides. When I only draw on open sources, there are also news about Russian-made weaponry being used by a number of extremists and terrorists groups in the world, so the issue is how we can limit the access of terrorist groups to this weapons. Not always they will probably go from a primary provider. A number of these weapons are changing hands from group to group, sometimes even through third states. So it is not so easy to track from where these weapons come from. And also you know that the specifics of the region is that a number of these groups change their affiliations and alliances so the group that was once fighting on Syrian Front, opposing extremist groups suddenly changed their affiliation and joined extremists groups, including with their weaponry.

    I believe we, and I mean we both on NATO and Russian side, should do more to track sources coming to support extremists and terrorist groups. But all the sources, not just weapons and ammunition but also financial support, material support and even political support because only by cutting these sources of supply we can effectively deal with these organisations. And I believe this is one of the great agenda items for discussion when it comes to potential cooperation how to best address the issues of extremist and terrorist group organizations.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: To cut the sources of supply, first you have to urge your own member countries to investigate where did this weapon come from but you didn’t. NATO said nothing about this western weaponry found in Syria like it ignored it. Why?

    General Petr Pavel: Well it is not primarily NATO business, because Nations own the weapons, NATO doesn’t own any weapon, NATO doesn’t sell any weapon, so Nations have to take their own investigation. And if they come to the conclusion, it is also up to their judicial system and political system to deal with. NATO doesn’t have tools or provisions how to deal with these issues.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: Could you please tell me whether there were any new requests from NATO member countries to create some new military units or new commands to deter Russia? Or will the multinational brigade in Romania for the moment be the last one?

    General Petr Pavel: Nations who were most affected by the changed situation to the East from their border were obviously those calling for more forward presence, more NATO presence on their soil. However, where we are now with the forward presence established in the Baltic countries and Poland and with some elements in the South East region, in Romania, Bulgaria, there is no intention at this point to go beyond that. We believe in NATO that these measures are sufficient for the time being, and if the security situation doesn’t change for worse, there’s no need to go beyond that.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: NATO, Russian Foreign Ministry raised concerns about NATO modernizing its nuclear fleet and nuclear bombs. Do you have any reaction on that and why is NATO doing that? Is Russia potential reason for that?

    General Petr Pavel: I think the basic principle here that is observed in NATO as well as in Russia, is having sufficient assets for deterrence. These assets are both conventional and nuclear. When we look on Russian nuclear inventory, it is being modernised over last decade quite significantly. So on NATO side it is quite natural we cannot stop modernisation either. So wherever the assets are getting morally obsolete, we have to think how to replace them by modern equipment to keep the same level of deterrence. I think it is well balanced and there is no measure being taken unilaterally that would go beyond that scope.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: Russia side, during the recent NATO-Russia Council, raised concerns as well about participation of non-nuclear states in nuclear exercises that NATO countries organized. Can you confirm that and explain why is NATO doing that, taking into consideration, according to the Russian view, it violates, how do you call it, the treaty, the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

    General Petr Pavel: This issue has been raised during the NRC meeting and I believe it was sufficiently explained. But there is no violation to the NPT, Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Nations that are not nuclear, Nations that participated in the exercise, are not conducting nuclear mission. Because you can imagine around nuclear mission there’s a lot of supporting activities by conventional forces and this is what these Nations do. There is nothing that would go beyond the letter or even spirit of the treaty.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: The next week there will be Defence Ministerial meeting. Will you, we were just talking about some minutes ago, what will be the concrete results of the meeting? What will we wait for?

    General Petr Pavel: You mean the Ministerial meeting next week? Ministers will discuss all current issues, that means security situation in the world as it is, they will discuss this outline design for NATO Command Structure adaptation, they will also discuss NATO adaptation and coherence of all the measures we are taking, how they proceed through Wales to Warsaw up to now and they will also discuss current operations and activities that NATO has both in Afghanistan, Kosovo and also with regard to NATO activity in Iraq.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: Will you have final numbers for Afghanistan next week?

    General Petr Pavel: Well I think we have had the final numbers for some time.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: And I would just like to ask this question on record about your successor. What is your main advice to your successor in dealing with Russia?

    General Petr Pavel: I believe if the security situation doesn’t change, and if there’s continuous will on both sides to have the dialogue, then my best advice would be pragmatic constructive approach based on clearly military arguments which both Russian and NATO sides are open to, so in that regard if we stick to these basic principles, I believe that we may have quite fruitful military-to military communication.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: What do you see now, that both sides are interested in better cooperation?

    General Petr Pavel: From what I got from General Gerasimov, I saw the interest, I saw this will for constructive approach, and I was quite clear that my aim is to follow strictly that approach.

    Vladimir Dobrovolskiy: Thank you very much.


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