Ivanov Uses Conciliatory Tone At Munich Conference
A major annual gathering of the world's top defense and security officials continued in Munich today, with Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov seeking to allay fears that Russia is a threat. Earlier in the day, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates focused on NATO's mission in Afghanistan.
Ivanov strongly defended his government's economic policy at the 44th annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, saying Russia expected to be among the world's five-biggest economies by 2020.
Russian Ambitions Nonthreatening
Ivanov also ensured attendees that Russia's bid to raise its global profile does not pose a security threat to other countries, an RFE/RL correspondent reported.
The prestigious two-day gathering, which was attended by nearly 400 high-profile delegates from some 50 countries, ended today.
In his speech, delivered in English, Ivanov said Russia will defend its national interests but seeks no direct confrontation with rivals.
"We do not intend to meet this challenge by establishing military blocs or engaging in open confrontation with our partners," he said.
Ivanov sought to allay European fears that they have become overly dependent on Russian gas and oil, saying Moscow will continue to fulfill its commitments regarding energy.
Ivanov also called for the United States and Russia to lead new discussions on the control and reduction of nuclear weapons and to replace the existing Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT-1).
"Proliferation is out of the tube," he said. "And I am sure the United States and Russia should be the leaders in making the new rules of the game -- much stricter -- concerning weapons of mass destruction and missile technologies."
On the topic of Kosovo, Ivanov warned that a unilateral declaration of independence by the Serbian province's ethnic Albanian leadership, which many expect to happen this month, would "open a Pandora's box" in Europe. Kosovo's independence is backed by the United States and most EU states but is opposed by Russia, a close ally of Serbia.
Ivanov's conciliatory speech failed to win over the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who acknowledged that there are still problems between the two sides, particularly concerning disputes over trade and the rule of law.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) main election watchdog, ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights), earlier this week cancelled its mission to Russia, citing unacceptable restrictions imposed on its monitoring of the March 2 presidential election.
Solana also called recent warnings by the Russian leadership of a new arms race sparked by the United States as "unconstructive."
While the United States and Russia have clashed over U.S. plans for a missile-defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic, Gates did not mention the issue.
He instead focused on Afghanistan.
"Now I would like to add my voice to those of many allied leaders on the [European] continent and speak directly to the people of Europe," Gates said. "The threat posed by violent Islamic extremism is real. And it is not going to go away."
Gates said the future of NATO is at risk if it becomes a "two-tiered alliance" of countries which fight and those that do not. He warned that such a development would effectively destroy NATO.
The defense secretary said NATO's task is to fracture and destroy Islamic extremism in its infancy, and the alliance's best opportunity to do this is in Afghanistan.
"Imagine if Islamic terrorists had managed to strike your [European] capitals on the same scale as they struck in New York," Gates said. "Imagine if they had laid their hands on weapons and materials with even greater destructive capability, weapons of the sort all too easily accessible in the world today."
Gates also warned that Islamic extremists worldwide would receive a huge morale boost if NATO's efforts to stamp out Islamic extremists from Afghanistan falter.
He added that Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province pose a direct threat to the Islamabad government.
Gates's speech wrapped up a week of U.S. efforts to persuade key European allies to send more combat troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan's restive south. The United States provides more than half of the 43,000 forces that make up NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission.