Results, Not Rhetoric: Nothing Must Be Allowed to Interfere with the Russo-American Relationship

Igor Ivanov is the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, a post he has held since 1998 (in both the Yeltsin and Putin Administrations).

Igor Ivanov is the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, a post he has held since 1998 (in both the Yeltsin and Putin Administrations). Foreign Minister Ivanov visited the United States to lead the Russian delegation to the 57th session of the United Nations General Assembly and to consult with members of the Bush Administration. He sat down with Nikolas K. Gvosdev, editor of In the National Interest, following his meetings with President Bush, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Powell, to discuss some of the issues facing the Russian-American relationship.

Asked whether Russia would support or veto a proposed UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Mr. Ivanov replied that he could not provide any concrete answer, as no draft resolution has of yet been presented, and negotiations on such a resolution are only now beginning.(1) The Foreign Minister made it clear that Russia could not support unilateral American military action against Iraq, while acknowledging that Russia could not prevent such an attack. However, the Foreign Minister suggested that Russia would not allow any potential disagreements over Iraq to interfere with the progress of the Russian-American relationship. Russia and the United States discuss their disagreements "as friends", he noted.

Mr. Ivanov noted that both Russia and the United States share a common view, that an Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction would pose a threat to global security, especially if such weapons found their way into the hands of terrorists or extremists. However, the Foreign Minister stressed that "we need clear facts, and only experts can determine whether such weapons are in Iraq." Eyewitness observations are needed, and this is why weapons inspectors must return to Iraq as soon as possible, to determine whether weapons of mass destruction--whether nuclear, biological, or chemical--still exist. Once the inspectors have verified the facts on the ground, then we can determine what further steps need to be taken.

The Foreign Minister wanted to dispel the impression that Russia is asking for a quid pro quo, whereby Russia would give the United States the green light to attack Iraq in return for a free hand in Georgia. First, Mr. Ivanov wanted to clear up the misperception that Russia is seeking to interfere in Georgian affairs. Russia has requested that if the Georgian government has information that terrorists are planning to move across the border into Russia, they themselves should take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening--and notify the Russian government. Russia has reserved the right, he noted, to pre-emptively strike at terrorists (before they actually cross into Russia) or to pursue terrorists who have committed criminal acts on Russian soil across the border into Georgia. This is, however, only as a last resort, if the Georgian authorities are unwilling or unable to handle the situation.

Mr. Ivanov drew comparisons between the cooperation that has developed between Russia and Azerbaijan in combating terrorism, with the distinct lack of enthusiasm in Tbilisi for joint action with Russia against terrorists. "In Azerbaijan, the leadership has for some time understood the threat posed by 'transit terrorism'", he observed. Baku realizes that the "trails" of terrorism (e.g. the transit of money, weapons, and fighters) pose a threat to its own stability. Therefore, Azerbaijan has worked with Russia to close down the flow of funds and personnel and to hand over terrorist suspects. "They understand we must combat this together", he concluded.

Unfortunately, Tbilisi doesn't seem to understand this. "The Georgian leadership needs to understand" that Russia's proposal for joint operations against terrorists "is not directed against Georgia." In fact, it is in Georgia's own interest to root out transnational terrorist organizations that have taken up residence on Georgian territory. Even if such groups do not target Georgia for terrorist attacks, they are engaged in other nefarious activities--kidnapping, arms smuggling, drug trafficking, money laundering, and other organized criminal ventures--that undermine Georgia's own internal stability. It is therefore in the interests of Georgia to work with Russia to secure the border and eliminate terrorist groups located on its territory; in so doing, it could then open the way to broader cooperation between Russia and Georgia.

Mr. Ivanov also believes that Washington must take more of an interest in this problem. He noted that the Russian delegation conveyed irrefutable facts and documentation outlining the links between terrorist groups and the Georgian leadership to American officials, especially during his meetings at the White House. Mr. Ivanov expressed his hope that Washington will convey to the Georgian government the importance of taking effective action to bring this situation to a close. The Foreign Minister said that Russia has no objection to American assistance to Georgia in containing and apprehending terrorists. Russia doesn't see a problem with this--as long as there are results.