Voice of Putin
From Kosovo independence and electoral politics to Ukranian energy and uranium enrichment, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov gave Russia’s take on the issues at the Nixon Center on Wednesday.
Despite recent road bumps in the U.S.-Russia dialogue, the relationship will remain important to Russia, according Dmitry Peskov, President Putin's media voice and first deputy press attaché. At the Nixon Center on Wednesday, Peskov conveyed that Russia under a new president will continue with reforms begun by Putin, concentrating on domestic issues while dealing with international problems in open and constructive ways.
Russia is too focused on domestic reform and revitalization to even think of provoking confrontation abroad, as it would only divert resources and attention away from economic development at home. Peskov said that Russia will operate in the "spirit of Munich," referencing a speech given by Putin in February of last year, which was widely viewed in the West as confrontational and even as marking the beginning of a new cold war. Far from it, according to Peskov. The spirit is instead one of openness, not aggression, and an "invitation to get rid of double standards."
As Peskov pointed out, although that openness can be viewed as tough, Russia is oftentimes responding, not initiating. Mentioning the hot-button issue of U.S. missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, Peskov commented that Russia was being "dragged into a new arms race." Russia isn't seeking confrontation, but there are some pills the government can't swallow.
Russia, for its part in the missile-defense row with the United States, has shown flexibility in proposing alternative initiatives, Peskov said. Though Putin and others have difficulty understanding American motives, they are willing to keep dialogue open. But the country's overtures have not yet led to results.
Similarly, with regards to NATO, though lines of communication are open, recent moves toward expansion are "not comforting" to Russia. The county views an expansion as promoting neighborhood instability, according to Peskov, which is threatening to Moscow.
Peskov reiterated the Russian stance that instability will also result from Kosovo's declaration of independence. February 17, 2008, the date of Kosovo's announcement of its independence, was a day when "significant damage" was done to "international law and the whole system of international relations," Peskov said. Kosovo is not unique in its claims to sovereignty, especially in the former-Soviet space. So Russia "cannot agree with [its] American colleagues" in recognizing the independence of the region. The declaration and recognition only encourages similar movements across the globe, from the Palestinian territories in the Middle East to Northern Cyprus and the Basque regions of Europe, with potentially damaging repercussions.
The United States, among other nations, has officially recognized Kosovo and has been a supporter of independence for the region. Although Russia has voiced opposition to this stance, Peskov said, the question is what Serbia's response will be to countries recognizing Kosovo; it is, after all, a disruption of Serbian, not Russian, territory.
But Russia doesn't plan to take any drastic action with regards to Kosovo anytime soon. The situation is far too complicated for "urgent steps." Instead, Russia will continue speaking out in the United Nations against the instability such a declaration promotes, encouraging the Security Council to take an active role to confront the issue.
Russia has been taking action when it comes to Iran, though. In December, Russia began delivering enriched uranium fuel to Iran's Bushehr power plant. This, Peskov said, has helped contribute to the possibility of a deal with Iran and decreases the Iranian need to enrich uranium. Peskov stressed that the IAEA is the only body with the authority to make decisions when it comes to Iran's enrichment activities, and that although the current process isn't perfect, there's no reason for pessimism or to take alternative action.
In discussing energy policy, Peskov outlined the steps taken so far. This strategic sector has long been populated by state corporations, but private involvement and foreign investment is also growing and developing. Options within the Russian market are limited, so it is natural that companies expand their scope to more international projects, specifically in Europe.
But when discussing this spread, Peskov was sure to underline that "energy is not a tool for political pressure and energy has never been a tool for political pressure," referencing latent fears in many countries when it comes to Russia and the country's dealings with other states, like Ukraine. But problems with European partners are both "inevitable and understandable." To reassure, Peskov noted that although the Russian economy is expanding and innovating, the energy sector remains important. To continue reaping the benefits it offers, Russia must work through international standards and show Europe that it has something to gain from the relationship, such as the potential for lower energy costs and the reliable energy supply Russia is "determined" to continue to provide.
Though the country is expanding its horizons, searching for alternative demand as Europeans search for alternative supply, Peskov commented that Russia has always looked in all directions for partners. It doesn't "neglect one destination for the sake of another" but rather keeps its interests central in all dealings.
For the moment, as Peskov mentioned, at the center of Russia's interests is domestic reform. And Russia, like the United States, is gearing up for a transitional phase, with presidential elections set for March 2. Many have leveled critiques against the seemingly undemocratic transition between Putin and his heir-apparent, Dmitry Medvedev. Peskov countered that the existence of a front-runner in an election doesn't mean the process is not democratic. Putin has no desire or need to undermine the constitution and trusts that Medvedev, who has proven his worth over the last eight years, will continue innovating and carry out the ambitious economic development plans begun by Putin.
And perhaps the future of Russia's relations with the rest of the world will be based on economic development and cooperation. As Peskov noted, the "multidimensional economic and investment relationship" between Russia and Europe is "flourishing" and has a great deal of room to grow. The same goes for the rest of the world.
Russia's relationship with the United States, regardless of who wins the elections on both sides of the Atlantic, "was, is and will continue to be" a "very important part of Russian foreign policy," Peskov said. Although problems will naturally exist when two large powers are involved, we aren't on the brink of another cold war. It may be a long winter, but dialogue is open, and Peskov was optimistic that all parties will eventually learn to take account of each other's interests.
But for that to happen, something's got to give.
Rebecca N. White is an apprentice editor at The National Interest.