Russian ambassador: Albanian-Russian ties normal, but...

Russian Ambassador in Tirana Aleksandr Karpushin in an exclusive interview with the Albanian Daily News

Genc MllojaSource: Albanian Daily News
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(Thinkstock)

Albanian Daily News has had an interview with the Russian Ambassador to Albania, Alexander Karpushin who expressed his opinions on the latest developments in the relations between Russia and the United States, focusing on the declared intention of President Trump to pull out of the nuclear arms agreement - the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and its impact on the relations between the two countries and the threat of the escalation of the arms race.

Further on the Ambassador dwelt on the ambiguous stance of European countries, including Albania, with regard to Russia's initiative to discuss the current situation at the UNGA session.

As far as the US request to include China in the accord, Mr. Karpushin said in essence, the question of the possible participation of China in some new agreements in the area of medium and shorter range missiles, about which President D. Trump talked publicly, should be addressed not to us.

Asked about the recent meeting between Russian President Putin and his Kosovo counterpart, the Russian Ambassador said: "The conversation with H. Thaci was not planned in advance and therefore could not be substantial. It is clear that a contact of such a kind cannot influence Russia's position on Kosovo, which is based on international law, primarily on UN Security Council Resolution 1244."

With regard to the Albanian-Russian ties, Mr. Karpushin considered them as normal but, according to him, trade and economic cooperation, unfortunately, is in a state of stagnation and political contacts remain at an extremely low level. He hoped that the meeting of the co-chairmen of the Russian-Albanian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, scheduled for December in Moscow, will allow improve the situation.

But, according to the Ambassador, the cooperation in the sphere of culture and education is developing well. "And the main base here is the demand for Russian culture and education in Albania, the growing desire of young people to learn the Russian language and get a higher education in Russia. The number of scholarships financed from the Russian budget has increased by more than twice over the past four years. This year 50 young Albanians have been admitted to Russian universities," said Ambassador Alexander Karpushin in the interview which follows:

- Mr. Ambassador, the United States has declared that it intends to pull out of the nuclear arms agreement, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. From the Russian point of view, what stands behind such a move and does it forewarn a step up of the arms race?

The US decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty is a strong blow to the current global arms control regime. This Russia's assessment is shared in the European Union. During her recent meeting with defense ministers of the EU countries, EU High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy F. Mogherini urged to preserve the Treaty. This is not by chance, since the Treaty primarily relates to the security of Europe. The "fathers" of the Treaty M. Gorbachev and R. Reagan set the goal of securing the European continent and preventing the possibility of emergence of an unexpected threat in the form of missiles near their borders. Let me remind that before the signing of the Treaty in 1987, the mankind found itself on the verge of a large-scale armed conflict and even under the threat of destruction due to careless actions of the conflicting parties several times. The Caribbean crisis of 1962 began not in Cuba, where the Soviet medium-range missiles R-12 and R-14 were deployed, but in Turkey and Italy one year earlier, when the USA unilaterally deployed more than a dozen of medium-range ballistic missiles "PMG-19 Jupiter" there. The younger generation very well remembers a similar story - the "Euro-missile crisis" of the 1980s, when the cooling of relations between the two superpowers led to the deployment of the "Pershing-2" medium-range missiles and new "Tomahawks" by NATO as a response to the modernization of the Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe.

So, the need to sign the Treaty, which helped to rid our continent of the eternal fear and distrust of the parties, appeared in those years and the need to preserve it is today urgent more than ever before. As its preparation became a result of joint work carried out by experts for many years, so it is necessary to resume the work of the US-Russia expert group in order to preserve the Treaty. Unfortunately, such consultations have been interrupted in recent years, but not upon the initiative of Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted recently that if the INF Treaty and other agreements in the field of armaments were dismantled, then an extremely dangerous situation will arise, because in the absence of such agreements we can return to the times of the arms race and, as a result, new missile crises. We really do not want this, so we try to describe all the risks of such decisions both in the framework of the UN General Assembly and privately to our American partners.

- In case that the United States abandons the Treaty which will be the eventual counteraction of Russia?

If the United States abandons the INF Treaty, first of all a question will arise: what will be its next actions? President Vladimir Putin said that he does not exclude a mirror response from our side if American ballistic missiles are delivered to Europe. European countries, which agree on these deliveries, will have to understand that they put their own territory under the threat of a possible retaliatory strike. We will return again to the situation with "Pershing" missiles of the 1980s.

The Russian leadership sees no reason to bring Europe to the state of such a high degree of danger. This opinion is shared by the key EU countries - it is enough to look at the reaction of the Foreign Ministries of France and Germany and, as I have already mentioned, of F. Mogherini to D. Trump's statement about the US withdrawal from the Treaty. I would like to believe that common sense will prevail. In case of realization of the worst scenario, there should be no hesitation about Russia's response, Moscow will be able to respond quickly and efficiently.

- How do you think, what has provoked such an unexpected, as it seems, decision on the withdrawal from the INF Treaty? Besides Russia, are other world powers, particularly European ones, concerned about this new development in the arms control field?


There is an impression that dismantling the INF Treaty is a systematic implementation of the previously planned line of the US behavior. Because long before announcing its intention to withdraw from the Treaty under far-fetched pretexts Washington launched specific military programs, which, in case of their continuation, will contradict not only the spirit, but also the letter of the INF Treaty. We know that the US Congress has allocated necessary financial resources for these purposes. Let me remind that when the USA publicly announced its intention, Russia decided to initiate a discussion on the current situation at the UNGA session. We informed the Albanian side about it in advance. Unfortunately, ironically, our proposal was not adopted. It was not supported by the Albanian delegation. Many participants simply did not want to quarrel with the Americans, especially small countries. But the most surprising thing was that all EU countries voted against the discussion of this topic at the UN General Assembly. It comes out that at first these states expressed their regret concerning the US position, but no concrete political step was made. We hope that this position is not connected with the essence of the EU's approach to the very content of the Treaty, because in the first place it is the European countries, including, by the way, Albania, as a NATO member, that are hostages of a dangerous situation, which may arise in case of dismantling the INF Treaty. Proceeding from the reaction of Mrs. Mogherini, it can be said that the understanding of the necessity to preserve the Treaty is coming also to the EU.

- How is the request of the United States that China should be included in the accord considered in Russia?

Washington explains its withdrawal from the INF Treaty by two widely used theses. The first, as always, accuses Russia of violating the Treaty. But, as always, no evidence of this is provided. And it happens at the time when the United States itself has already violated the Treaty by having deployed a missile defense system in Romania, using the Aegis missile launchers for this, what President V. Putin has mentioned many times.

The second thesis relates to the Chinese factor. But, in essence, the question of the possible participation of China in some new agreements in the area of medium and shorter range missiles, about which President D. Trump talked publicly, should be addressed not to us. Over the past decades, Russia has repeatedly appealed to the international community with a proposal to universalize the obligations under the INF Treaty. However, this initiative has not received wide support. Russia is still open for the discussion of any constructive ideas leading to the strengthening of international security and stability. As far as we understand, it requires mutually acceptable consensus decisions of several parties. And they are incompatible with the attempts of dictatorship and blackmail on the part of Washington. Those interested in the subject can turn to the detailed briefing by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Riabkov available at the MFA website.

- Your Excellency, do you think that the frequent meetings between the two presidents, Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump, can save the treaty and lay ground for another effort to keep the nuclear arms race under control? Recently they have been to Paris together with other world leaders to mark 100 years since the armistice that ended World War I.

A universal way to solve any international problems is negotiating, exchanging opinions and, what is very important, a desire of the parties to hear each other's positions. The meetings mentioned by you are the most important communication channel on the current issues. Especially in today's conditions, when the relations between Russia and the United States are going through a difficult crisis period.
As it is known, V. Putin and D. Trump held a short conversation during a working lunch in Paris on November 11. Before that, as you know, a big bilateral meeting was planned, but it turned out to be impossible due to the position of the host country. Perhaps, such a meeting will take place very soon on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. I would like to emphasize once again that Russia is ready for a dialogue. As Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out, we hope to restore a full-scale negotiation process with the United States alongside with the launch of consultations between experts and politicians. Sometimes such a dialogue is even more important than regular meetings of state leaders.

- Ukraine has secured approval from Constantinople to establish an independent church accusing the Russian Orthodox Church of allowing itself to be used as a tool of the Kremlin to justify Russian expansionism and support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. In your view, what is the significance of such a move followed by the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church to sever all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople?

At the present time, the Russian Orthodox Church, by the way, like the entire Orthodox world, recognizes only one canonical church in Ukraine - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. It is precisely its position that is a key one in the current situation and we see that it strongly condemns the provocations of Patriarch Bartholomew, who acts with direct support from Washington.

It should be underlined that the two schismatic churches in Ukraine - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church - remain non-canonical up to this day, or in other words, non-compliant with church rules. However, it did not prevent Bartholomew from declaring their full legitimacy, despite the disagreement of the majority of local Orthodox churches. The goal of Bartholomew, who, I repeat, enjoys the open support of the United States, is to detach Ukraine from Russia not only politically, but also spiritually. As a result, a parallel structure can be created on the territory of the canonical church, which is extremely dangerous, since it may lead to the emergence of new schisms in other local churches.

In addition, in fact, the mechanisms of inter-Orthodox dialogue are undermined. If the Patriarchate of Constantinople acted earlier as a coordinator of relations between Orthodox churches, now, when more than half of all Orthodox believers of the world do not communicate with it, Constantinople has lost this role. We are particularly concerned that the potential confiscation of the property of the canonical church in Ukraine may lead to truly tragic consequences. The schismatics are openly claiming its shrines already and the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine has begun the "inventory" of the temples, which are in its use. President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko and Head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry P. Klimkin stated that "the Moscow Patriarchate has nothing to do in Ukraine," while Speaker of the Parliament A. Parubiy said that the canonical church is "not a church."

Thus, Bartholomew's decision to "legalize" Ukrainian schismatics can destabilize the situation in Ukraine even more and aggravate the public split in this country. Such actions have nothing to do with the maintenance of peace.

- Mr. Ambassador, President Vladimir Putin met with Kosovo President Hashim Thaci in Paris a few days ago for the first meeting that they ever had. How do you evaluate their conversation and its impact on the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue but particularly on eventual breakthrough in the Kosovo-Russian relations?

While staying in France President V. Putin held dozens of meetings. The conversation with H. Thaci was not planned in advance and therefore could not be substantial. It is clear that a contact of such a kind cannot influence Russia's position on Kosovo, which is based on international law, primarily on UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

As for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, it is conducted, as we know, through the mediation of the European Union. Russia fully supports this process, but we cannot help noting that a number of agreements reached already by the parties remain unimplemented: Pristina, in particular, impedes the creation of the Association of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo in every possible way. We hope that Brussels will be able to ensure the implementation of all existing agreements. It is premature to talk about a possible outcome of the negotiations, but, as Minister Sergey Lavrov noted, if Belgrade deems some option of settlement acceptable for itself, the Russian side will be ready to consider it in a constructive way.

- Turning to the relations between Albania and Russia, what can you say on their overall status?

If we evaluate our relations, it can be stated that they are normal in general. We have no bilateral problems or unresolved issues. However, the trade and economic cooperation, unfortunately, is in a state of stagnation and political contacts remain at an extremely low level. We hope that the meeting of the co-chairmen of the Russian-Albanian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, scheduled for December in Moscow, will allow improve the situation. The Albanian delegation headed by Deputy Minister of Finance and Economy Albana Shkurta will have the opportunity to discuss the whole range of bilateral issues with the Russian colleagues, focusing, of course, on enhancing trade and economic exchanges. As I have underlined earlier, a serious blow to our relations was the groundless expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Tirana in the spring of this year. We still feel the consequences of this unfriendly step.

- In the meantime, it is noticed that the relations in the cultural field continue. Could you please mention some of what has happened in this field during 2018 as the year is coming to an end?

Yes, indeed, the cooperation in the sphere of culture and education is developing well. And the main base here is the demand for Russian culture and education in Albania, the growing desire of young people to learn the Russian language and get a higher education in Russia. The number of scholarships financed from the Russian budget has increased by more than twice over the past four years. This year 50 young Albanians have been admitted to Russian universities. If we talk about specific cultural events organized in 2018, I would mention the concerts of the Moscow Synodal Choir in Tirana and Berat, dedicated to the visit of Patriarch Kirill to Albania, the concert of world-famous Russian horn player Arkady Shilkloper in Tirana, the performances of the Russian song ensemble "Vertograd" in Berat and Vlora, as well as the concert of two young performers from the Saint-Petersburg Music House in Vlora. Next year, we hope to build up our contacts in the humanitarian field and delight the Albanian audience with interesting cultural projects.

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