With administrative assistance provided by an RT television crew who had invited me to the Russian Embassy, Brussels to give an interview on the results of yesterday’s NATO-Russia meetings, I had the opportunity to witness most of the press conference given there by Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who co-led the Russian delegation earlier in the day.
In the spirit of my writings on this website generally, I provide here an account of the press conference that reflects the facts but also my personal impressions of the event and of its main actor, Mr. Grushko. I conclude this report with the link to my 15 minute interview with RT.
I know Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Grushko from face to face meetings we had in Brussels back in the time when he served as Russian ambassador to NATO. He had to leave that post in 2018 after savage cuts imposed on the Russian staff as part of the global US-led move to cut ties with Russia, to denigrate its leadership and move the country to pariah status internationally. Once back in Moscow, Grushko further climbed the hierarchical ladder to assume deputy minister status.
From our talks in 2018 and before, I found Grushko to be a sincere and dedicated public servant, as idealistic in orientation as one can reasonably be in any large organization, whether governmental or private. His statements and answers to questions at the press conference yesterday proved that these personal qualities remain with him. Even The New York Times account of the press conference noted Grushko’s remark about the nature of the talks earlier in the day at NATO headquarters: “This was a heart-to-heart discussion,” he said. Frank, constructive, professional – these are the commonplace, diplomatic wooden language terms both Russian and American officials used to describe the meetings. But “heart-to-heart”? – this was very much the man of the day speaking his mind.
He spoke favorably of the four hours of talks at NATO headquarters, although what the Russians call their three “imperatives,” beginning with exclusion of Ukraine forever, were rejected by the NATO member states unanimously. Grushko said it was important that the Russian delegation could set out directly to all 30 NATO member states what its security concerns are and what motivates any further action their country will take to get satisfaction. Thus, the message was received by each member directly and not by way of summary from the hands of the U.S. State Department.
Grushko also used his time at the microphone to share with the press some of his personal regrets at the change in NATO policy from the time of the creation of the NATO-Russia Council in 1997. In these remarks he drew upon his own experience of the functioning of the Council during his six years as the envoy of his country to NATO.
To his understanding, the overriding principle behind creation of the Council had been to go beyond clearing away the wreckage of the Cold War relations and to establish a positive joint agenda for the future. He saw this in the joint activities of NATO and Russia to combat terrorism globally, which included notably activities to stabilize Afghanistan, to root out the narcotics traffic emanating from that country, to combat piracy at sea, to coordinate measures to thwart would-be hijackers of commercial aircraft and the like. Now none of these cooperative activities remains and the sides have been cut off from one another for more than two years. Instead, Russia has been used by the United States and its NATO allies as their common Enemy Number One, with whom no cooperation is possible or desirable.
But Grushko’s concerns go much further. He condemned the U.S. led efforts to drag Russia back into a Cold War, when all the efforts and budgets of humankind should be addressing our real common threats, including Global Warming, food security, Covid and similar threats that are outside of geopolitical pigeonholing.
Of course, none of these personal appraisals of Mr. Grushko was picked up by our major Western media covering the press conference. They would sound too human, too progressive to be attributed to our sworn enemies. Instead, our newspapers and television news bulletins disseminated NATO Director General Jens Stoltenberg’s insistence on the same day that the Russian demands for closing NATO’s open door to new members was unacceptable, but that progress in diplomatic channels was still possible on other issues including limitations on war exercises in Europe, measures to reduce the risks of accidental conflict, arms control. if the Russians were genuinely interested in continuing the talks.
However, I detect some progress made by our media in exposing to their audiences the logic of the Russian security concerns, which previously had been untouchable. They are being looked at for themselves apart from the present confrontation over Ukraine, and that is real progress.
Meanwhile, The Financial Times in today’s issue carries an Opinion article written by Samuel Charap of the Rand Corporation entitled “Nato honesty on Ukraine could avert conflict with Russia.” This extraordinary piece argues for NATO to abandon its stiff-necked response to Russian demands and to openly acknowledge what we all know for a fact, that NATO is not reviewing Ukraine’s bid to join the alliance.
Western media repeat uncritically the position taken by U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman that if the Russians choose to break off negotiations it will show they were never serious about finding a diplomatic solution. All are confused over what Mr. Putin’s military options are and which he will exercise if the talks fail. Like today’s New York Times, they repeat the Russian President’s warning of an “unspecified ‘military-technical’ response.” They obviously do not understand the term, though a good Russian dictionary could point the way and tell us that the Russians’ Plan B is not to invade Ukraine or bomb Estonia but to position their latest tactical and strategic weaponry in places that present to the United States and NATO the same existential threat and ultra-short warning times of attack that the U.S.-led encirclement of Russia presents to Moscow today. Of course, if that does not work, no doubt the Russian Plan C will involve some kind of kinetic or cyber warfare that demonstrates Russia’s negotiating “from a position of strength,” as the Americans like to say.
I was asked a couple of days ago by an old schoolmate in the States whether I have to cut and trim what I say in public not to lose the privileged access I have to Russian media. Behind this question lies the ubiquitous opinion in the West that Russian media are strictly controlled by the Kremlin, that everything is censored for the thought control you expect in an “autocratic” or “authoritarian” regime.
I repeat here the observation I made back in 2016 when I was a frequent panelist on political talk shows hosted both by Russian state television and commercial channels. Yes, the programming and selection of panelists is tendentious, but part of the tendency is to give the microphone to representatives of views at odds with official Russian policies and to let the panelists have a go at one another in the confidence that the superiority of the reasoning preferred by the state will be shown. I also noted back then that when given the microphone I was never censored, said what I thought and saw that the later releases of the respective videos onto youtube.com were complete and without cuts. And, at times, I have made statements that directly contradicted the preferred positions of United Russia, as for example with respect to the amended constitution which granted to Mr. Putin the right to stand for reelection in 2024.
Now, as regards complicity with my interviewer yesterday: in the ten minutes or so that I, the camera man and the interviewer stood waiting for the press conference in the background to end so that noise interference would be removed, my interviewer read out to me the questions she intended to ask me. In turn, and exceptionally, I told her what key point I wanted to make on air. I did this to avoid assuming the commonplace but not very polite routine of interviewee who hears a question, ignores it and makes his own prepared communication to the audience. I was pleased a few minutes later to see that what I wanted asked of me was duly worked into the sequence of questions so that I had no need to abuse my right to the microphone.
In the end, I was satisfied with the interview. I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022