Antoaneta Kiselincheva’s interview with Geori Dimitrov, Doctor in International Relations, a long-time adviser to the Bulgarian Minister of Defense on international relations, former Deputy-Director of the National Intelligence Service.
Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Valentina Tzoneva exclusively for SouthFront
As expected, at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, a decision was taken for the deployment of four divisions in the Baltic states and Poland. What is the purpose of the relocation of the armed troops? Are they really looking for stability, dialogue and security?
First, before I make any comment, I would like to point out that in the National Security Doctrine of Russia, which has been renewed in 2015, the alliance NATO was defined as the major threat for the security of the country. The decision which NATO presented in its communiqué of 32 pages, was previously popular in the public space, and it is no news at all – enforced presence to the East, as it is formulated, and adapted front presence in the south-east parts of NATO. These are the two decisions announced in the communique, including deployment of military formations, positioning them close to the border of Russia, mostly by the four greatest powers of NATO. Actually, the main question is why and what caused these decisions. It looks like NATO forgot the idea that it is apart from being a military organization, the Alliance is also a political organization. There is a kind of tiredness from the negotiations or mostly inability to negotiate with the Russian partners, because after all, Russia is difficult for negotiations and if the negotiating team of NATO has not managed to negotiate agreements, then it has to be changed because with Russia, you cannot negotiate in the tones of ultimatums or declarations. This is, after all, a superpower and we must not forget that it is a great power and will remain such. Taleyran, who is the father of diplomacy in his time, formulated the brilliant thesis: ”you can lean on the bayonet, but you cannot sit on it.” That’s why these formations, which will be placed close to the border of Russia – the so-called front side, will neither solve the problems nor scare Russia. It was not unexpected for Russia. Meanwhile, the communique highlights that Russia is the source of instability and a threat for the long-term unity of Europe. It seems to me that Brexit, which is not mentioned in the NATO communique, is an equal threat for a united Europe. That’s why I think that the anti-missile system for defense of NATO, which will be brought to an early stage of implementation again close to the borders of Russia, as well as the adapted front-presence in the south-east part of NATO, are outdated methods. This demonstration and the pretense of force, dates from the 60s of the previous century. You see that they bring up concepts that on their own sound quite old fashioned.
NATO undertook a harsh tone, maybe the harshest since the end of the Cold War, and declared Russia as the aggressor. Meanwhile, in the closing chapter of the communique, it is stated that “constructive relations” will be proposed to Russia. Actually, is NATO clear regarding what to expect from Russia?
I would say that here an old cast is used, an old method which does not respond to the 21st Century. With Russia, one must negotiate and this is not only my opinion. This opinion was voiced by many Western Europeans – with long-time participants in politics with a proven record of practice and experience. These are politicians from Germany, Italy and France, and they state that they support building bridges with Russia. There is no way that they want a confrontation with Russia, and definitely not a military confrontation. Common activities were drawn regarding the migrant crises. These are unavoidable threats for the security in the Middle East and in Europe, which is victimized. In the fight against the ‘Islamic State’, cooperation is also needed, as stability in Iraq could be achieved only in cooperation with Russia. This stability won’t be achieved only by training soldiers and some intelligence from flights. There must be goal-orientated activities to fight the terrorists. This includes cooperation with Russia in the naval operations in the Mediterranean. There, they are also looking for Russian cooperation as a naval force present in the Mediterranean. So, the road to achieve a solution to this question is not in opposing Russia, but cooperation and negotiations. We are still searching for politicians of the range of Kissinger who can, with one flexible diplomacy, achieve cooperation. It is difficult to negotiate with Russia, but it does not mean that it is impossible. This is a goal which must be questioned and resolved.
At the Summit, it became clear that not the ‘Islamic State’ but Russia is the real enemy. The real threat of terrorism was placed on a back position, and the main theme was an abstract threat coming from Russia. How do you explain the shift of focus on the big security problems?
The so-called arch of insecurity as it is written in the communique – the arch of insecurity and instability in the periphery of NATO, unfortunately exists and it is a very good observation, but it will be extremely wrong to see in this arch of insecurity only Russia, because further on in the communique it is stated that the terrorist threats from the Middle East and Africa are also real. There NATO, must focus its attention, and Russia is only a source of instability. There is an indication, of course, about the mission in Afghanistan, a comprehensive package of aid for Ukraine. I think that the accent must not be placed solely and only on Russia. Cyberspace comes as a new operational domain, NATO is for the first time bringing up this direction in its actions. We are convinced that active members of ‘Islamic State’ are educated people from Western Europe, America, as well as from some former Soviet republics, who are also falling in this parameter of cyberspace. But the fight with ‘Islamic State’ is unthinkable without cooperation with Russia. This fight requires common actions, and NATO seeing the threats, must not stress only on the threat coming from the East. I think that it was done mostly to calm down some neighbouring Russia states that there will be some foreign presence, foreign bases so they can lead more successful politics in their countries in this way.
Do you believe that the NATO presence in these countries is a guarantor that they will be able to lead independent politics?
This is a benefit for the politicians on a national level, which they will point to their electorate as their own achievement and that they have done everything possible to protect their countries. Do you really believe that the presence of 1,000 solders more, regardless of whether they are British or American, will guarantee protection from some aggression, if it happens?! Plus, there is no serious indication that such a thing will happen.
There is a very interesting agreement I would like to speak about. It is between Poland and Turkey, and it relates to electronic-silencing equipment. Of course, the agreement has a secret content, these are military measures directed at the protection of this arch of insecurity. They will completely cover the perimeter towards Russia, but towards Iran, Syria on the south, too. This means that the experts who wrote the document tried to cover the threats facing NATO. I think that it would be a mistake for the journalists to focus only on Russia. I think that this is more a mark for another failure of the diplomatic negotiations with the Russian side, than a real threat to Russia, because after all, you will agree that Russia is a huge, powerful country which must not be threatened in this manner and it should not be.
Many of the leaders at the Summit appealed for softening the tone with Russia. Holland spoke that Russia should be treated as a partner; Steinmeier criticised the military drills of NATO in Poland. A number of other leaders stepped back from the “harsh tone”. Obviously, the leaders of Europe are not unanimous regarding this course, however, why does the aggressive approach towards Moscow prevail? Where does the pressure come from?
Regretfully, in the political sphere, Europe remains subordinated to the decisions of the White House. The biggest problem between the allies remains the sharing of the military expenses. The Europeans got used to the practice of reducing military expenses, relying mainly on their big ally. In this direction, mainly these military decisions would have given an opportunity for the expenses to be redirected to the West European tax payers. Moreover, the decision to put 2% of the GDP towards military expenses, has been put on the table. For a small and poor Bulgaria, this applies in full force, but I think that this enforced military spirit in which all the hybrid and cyber threats have been listed, aims at a renewal of the armament in Western Europe and providing more funds for arms.
And this on its own, does it not make Russia retaliate and start rearmament?
I think that this rearmament was finalised at an earlier stage. Russia already has a very serious armament, which is known already. For me, the key to the question is before anything else, the diplomatic talks, diplomatic negotiations, diplomatic solutions – something which the NATO alliance tends to forget. As I earlier stated, NATO is not only a military, but a political organisation and in this regard, I think that you can hardly scare the Russians with a war. The right approach is negotiations, regardless of how difficult they are.
The other move of the Warsaw Summit is the creation of the Black Sea flotilla. How do you explain the lack of harmony in the opinion of the President and the Prime Minister? Is the resistance of Boyko Borisov about his suggestion to demilitarise the Black Sea zone genuine?
The Prime Minister has an interesting idea. I am surprised regarding the speech of the President. I am still asking myself if this is the mandate for him to go to the NATO Summit. In this report, there were some false evaluations, done by a man who is not an expert. I know the high professional level of the diplomats working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I can declare without prior knowledge that they have prepared excellent documents for the Summit. The differences between the evaluations of the President and the Prime Minister are a mystery to me.
It is known that in the past, the Black Sea was a lake which due to earthquakes and climate changes, turned into a sea. No matter what, it is a closed sea where military ships of foreign countries cannot stay for more than 21 days. This flotilla, it seems to me, is unreal because even from a strategic point of view, the Black Sea is not the place where sea battles will take place.
The other accent that NATO included in the communique is the sea operation in the Mediterranean. This is the operation ‘Sea Guardian’, directed against trafficking, terrorism etc. This is a very good decision, as it will protect Greece and Italy, which are suffering from the traffic of migrants. The emergence of pirates is possible in this region, which will disturb the merchant fleet. That’s why I think this operation is real and achievable, while the idea about a flotilla in the Black Sea is exaggerated.