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Page last updated at 23:56 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 00:56 UK

Lavrov deplores Nato 'Cold War logic'

By Steven Eke
Russian affairs analyst, BBC World Service

Sergei Lavrov
Mr Lavrov appeared somewhat more cautious than other Russian officials

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused members of Nato of reverting to the "confrontational logic of the Cold War".

In an interview with the BBC Russian service, Mr Lavrov said the roots of the diplomatic hostility lay in the alliance's "unilateral position" on the war between Russia and Georgia last August.

He said Nato members refused "to even debate the reasons for the conflict" over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

"The recent cooling of our relations with Nato exposes clear problems in our dialogue," he said.

"We do not understand this tendency - still there, still not understood by us - to try to downplay the norms of international law, the role of the UN Security Council," he added.

However, Mr Lavrov stressed that Nato was "not inherently seen by Russia as a source of danger".

Instead, he said, it was "part of the existing European security infrastructure", and an "organisation with which Russia wants to co-operate".

Acute disputes

As part of the relaunch of its website ( bbcrussian.com ), the BBC's Russian Service interviewed the Russian and UK foreign ministers on the state of bilateral relations.

Mr Lavrov and his British counterpart, David Miliband, agreed that Russia has a particular role to play in the world. Among the key factors, both men identified Russia's "immense geography, natural resources, and global interests".

David Miliband
Mr Miliband said the UK and Russia needed to focus on "what's working"

This, said Mr Lavrov, was why Russia had been able to "form partner-like relations with many countries around the world".

He rejected any suggestion that Russia had become friendless or somehow marginalised, and pointed to the recent G20 summit in London, which, he insisted, had "resulted in practical measures to restart the global economy that would have been unthinkable even two years ago".

Commercial links between Russia and the UK have boomed, despite considerable political differences and, at times, acute disputes.

Mr Miliband said the UK and Russia needed to concentrate on "what's working" in their relationship.

He identified trade, people-to-people contact, co-operation over the Middle East and Afghanistan, and, most recently, measures to tackle climate change.

Mr Miliband also stressed that the "positive personal chemistry" between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Gordon Brown should help address the issues that divide London and Moscow.

'Special influence'

The interviews suggested there remain areas of clear disagreement between London and Moscow. In particular, their respective positions on Georgia and its breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are still far apart.

Mr Miliband said the UK did not agree with Russia over recognition of the two regions' independence or what he called "the invasion of Georgia" last August.

Russian tanks in South Ossetia
Russia has thousands of troops in South Ossetia, months after the conflict

The UK could not recognise South Ossetian or Abkhazian independence, the British Foreign Secretary explained, because "they did not go through the proper procedures, and the outcome was the result of military force".

Mr Lavrov's approach was quite different.

Highlighting what he described as "the harm done by attempting to deny Russia's right to defend its national interests", he insisted Russia's actions in August 2008 were both justified and legal.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia, he maintained, left Georgian sovereignty under an old Soviet law, dating back to 1990, allowing territories and republics the formal right of secession.

Russia's decision to recognise their sovereignty, years later and only after the events of last August, was "not the result of geopolitical ambition, but in the interests of security and the very survival of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian peoples", he said.

Mr Miliband said the UK recognised that Russia wanted "to see stability along its borders", but insisted that "no country should have zones of special influence".

President Medvedev has referred to "zones of privileged interest" in the former Soviet republics. Speaking to the BBC, Mr Lavrov said attempts to "revert to ancient European history", would be "counterproductive".

'Information war'

Both ministers appeared to allude to lingering Cold War stereotypes in each other's policies.

map

Mr Miliband suggested Russia and the UK, both diverse nations with complex histories, were still coming to terms with the loss of empire.

However, Mr Lavrov singled out the Western media for criticism, accusing it of "allowing itself to be used as a weapon in an information war".

Mr Lavrov believes that parts of the Western media are consciously trying to undermine Russia's image in the world.

A number of British academics and writers have asked whether there is a "new Cold War". Some believe it has already begun.

But the mere suggestion angered the Russian foreign minister.

He described it as "the product of the inertia of the imagination of some sensationalist journalists, as well as biased experts".

'Politics of consensus'

While many of the disagreements between London and Moscow have been about specific issues, there are also wider, philosophical differences over how Europe's security should be guaranteed.

Moscow sees Nato's expansion, for example, as a hangover from the Cold War.

Alexander Litvinenko
Alexander Litvinenko died in London in 2006 shortly after being poisoned

Yet London has been an enthusiastic supporter of Nato membership for Central and Eastern European nations, and continues to support the prospect of eventual membership for Ukraine and Georgia.

Indeed, in his interview Mr Miliband said the door was open, although he warned that neither country should see joining as "on the cards just yet".

Mr Lavrov's line appeared somewhat more cautious than that of many Russian officials, who have capitalised on widespread anti-Nato sentiments for political gain.

Mr Lavrov explained that the prospect of further eastwards expansion could "not avoid causing concern" in Russia, but said a Nato willing to "take adequate account" of Russia's national interests would be a major factor in bolstering "the new politics of consensus".

The unresolved murder of the former Russian security service agent, Alexander Litvinenko, in London in November 2006, is a lingering source of tension between Russia and the UK.

Russia refuses to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the man British prosecutors suspect of poisoning Litvinenko.

Moscow points to a constitutional ban on extraditions of its citizens to other countries.

However, in his interview, Mr Miliband insisted that "justice will be sought for a very serious crime".

Asked about Russia's response, he described it bluntly as "no co-operation and no movement".



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