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Alexander Vershbow: Russia is not an enemy anymore

Alexander Vershbow, NATO Deputy Secretary General.
 While Latvian minister of defense Artis Pabriks is apprehensive of the “soft power” Russia is attempting to pursue in Latvia, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow remains calm. “Soft power” nowadays is being employed by everyone, he admits in his interview to the Free City magazine.

"I think that soft power is something that everyone is using today"

Latvian defense plans consider Russia as an enemy. Do you agree that there is a real threat to the Baltic states from Russia?
NATO doesn't believe it has any enemies and certainly we made it clear that Russia is not an enemy anymore, that Russia is a partner with whom we want to do more. Obviously we always have to plan for all possible contingencies but the focus of our efforts and of our debates in the alliance is developing partnership with Russia. It's truth that over the last four years we did a lot to strengthen the meaning of Article V of the NATO treaty, the commitment to the collective defense. We have updated plans, we have conducted exercises but this does not mean that any country has a lot of threats out there. A lot of them are global threats that are as much challenge for Russia as they are for NATO. So we have to do those plans but we have to work with Russia as much as we can to solve the major security problems of the region and the world.
Russian government officials still worry about NATO enlargement...
If you look at the last two decades, NATO’s overall deployment of military forces had been reduced significantly certainly comparing to the Cold War days. And nothing that NATO does should cause Russia any deep concerns. When we started the process of the enlargement of the alliance NATO made some policy commitments that included the announcement that we would not station substation combat forces on the territory of new members. That was intended to give reassurance to Russia that the enlargement of NATO was not going to bring any military threats toward Russia's borders. And we have lived up to that promise. Now part of the understanding of the time was that we are entitled to cooperate with the new allies on the military level, conduct trainings, conduct exercises and even modernize some of the infrastructure like the air fields and communication systems, so we can carry out our commitments to them if we have to. But there is no real threat to Russia here in the Baltic region or in any part of Europe where Russia's former allies have now become members of NATO. 
Defense minister of Latvia Artis Pabriks stated that Russia is using soft power in the Baltic states. Do you agree with that?
I think that soft power is something that everyone is using today. It's better to compete in the field of soft power than in the field of hard power.
Who is winning?
I don't know what I have to say. But I think that certainly open exchanges of information often come through access to the media of other countries, exchanges of people, cultural exchanges, cooperation among NGO – all these are ways for societies to show their strength, their achievements. That is the kind of soft power that, I think, all countries try to demonstrate. I think it's better to compete in that field.
Some Latvian politicians are worried about the fact that Russian business plays very important role in Latvian economics. Is NATO concerned about that?
That really gets beyond the kind of issues that NATO concerns itself with, I think for any country it is important that foreign businesses and investors comply fully with local laws that they be transparent so that economic relations are mutually beneficial. And they don't have any other impact on relations. So transparency, consistency with the law – those are the key principles.
Don't you see any threats in situation when one of the NATO states depends on Russian money?
I think we have increasingly global economy, countries depend on one another. My home country – the US – had issued a lot of bones to foreign governments. And I think that no one feels that it is putting our security at risk. So I think in the end of the day greater interdependence makes countries more likely to seek cooperative solutions to problems than being more isolated and competitive to one another.
How do you see the role of Latvia in Northern distribution network?
Latvia plays very important role as one of the terminals of the rail wheeling that is very important part of the Northern distribution network, which has been very viable especially because we have had some recent difficulties with the supply routes to Pakistan. I made the Northern distribution network even more important, so Latvian ports and facilities enabling the transfer of goods from ships and from airplanes to the rail system and then transiting to Russia and Central Asia to Afghanistan have been key to the stable sustainment of the collar ship forces. So it had been good for security of everyone that the troops in Afghanistan were able to cooperate with the reliable supply chain that is represented by the Northern distribution network. In the future as we reduce the presence in Afghanistan and move to the end of 2014 there will be a major outflow of the military equipment and other materials from Afghanistan. And so I think there will be even more move of traffic through Latvia. There are many different routes. One of the goals of last years has been to develop multiple set of routes. I think some of the rail links will go to other ports in the Baltics other than Latvian ports. Of course there are routes through central region across the Caspian Sea, through Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Pakistan route is operating again and if it stays open perhaps it will carry the majority of the cargos. So the key is to have many choices. 

"Russia has had enough revolutions in the last few centuries"

You have been an ambassador of the USA to Russia and have met Vladimir Putin. Has he changed since his first presidency?
I think there have been a lot of changes in Russia since Mr. Putin first came into power. But he is a familiar figure and we are hoping that despite the political challenges he faces at home and despite some differences we have on issues like missile defense we can find the basis for practical cooperation with Putin II as we were able to do with most of Putin I. So we will work with his administration as we worked with the president Medvedev’s. We are already working together on the Afghanistan – the Northern distribution network. That is also collaboration to help in development of Afghan air forces which are based on Russian MI17 helicopters, Russia is helping to supply them, to train and maintain the Afghan air forces. So we've got some limited area cooperation on which to build and we hope that even more significant cooperation will be possible with the president Putin.
Don't you worry about the differences in your position in some issues of global security?
We don't consider Russia as an enemy we consider Russia a partner. And maybe there are areas where we disagree; the differences between the members of NATO and Russia on Syria I think made it much harder to end the killing there. And that is the problem more for the United Nations than for NATO but still it affects the overall atmosphere of the relationship. But I am an optimist, I believe that when you look at one of those vital interests in the 21 century of the members of NATO and of Russia they may not be exactly the same but they overlap in just about every area. So with political will, with creativity, with flexibility from both sides we can find more ways to cooperate.
Don't you think that political processes going on in Russian can lead to a revolution?
I think Russia has had enough revolutions in the last few centuries, so we look for Russia to a peaceful evolution and to increasing cooperation with countries of NATO and Transatlantic alliance.
How do you appreciate the actions taken by Russian opposition?
This is not something where NATO takes some active part. Obviously we watch with interest the political evolution in Russia, political developments. And we compare our assessments, we take in interesting views of Russia's neighbors who have unique vantage point to observe those developments in Russia. But NATO doesn’t take any positions on internal matters. 
How does NATO appreciate the risk of the fall of the European Union?
I think the EU is here to stay and I think it has been a tremendous achievement for Europe to build this union that is a progressively expending cooperation starting with the economy and trade sphere and now moving to areas of political cooperation, security and even military cooperation. I think it has been healthy for Europe and it is good for the Transatlantic Alliance as well. I think that the recent resolve on the part of the European leaders to address the economic challenges will ultimately be good for NATO as well.

Oksana Antonenko 

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