Russia has called on the West to unite with it in the fight against Islamist terror. DW spoke with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Antonov about Moscow’s role in the “war on terror” and its defense strategy.
DW: Mr. Antonov, the war on terror is nothing new, it been waged for years, for decades, but so far without success. The terror attacks in Brussels this week are testament to that. Is the war not being waged effectively enough?
Anatoly Antonov: The war on terror will be the main topic at the international security conference to be held in Moscow at the end of April. The problem is that some countries are playing games with the terrorists. They think it is possible to create islands that are free of terrorism. At the UN General Assembly, our president extended his hand and said: ”We have to stick together.” If we do, we can come together like a fist. It’s the only way that we can fight terrorism.
Like a fist … that’s a very illustrative analogy. But what part exactly can Russia play in the war on terror?
I’ll give you two examples. First, let’s look at the Middle East. We have managed to stop the spread of terror in Syria. It would have been even better to combat its spread throughout the whole of the Middle East.
Secondly, there’s Afghanistan. Terrorists there are seriously endangering security, and we are doing everything to ensure that this – for want of a better word – filth does not spread to Russia and the countries friendly to us. That is why we are supplying the armies of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with modern weapons. We are doing everything to make their militaries more effective.
The border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is 1,355 kilometers long, and it is hardly patrolled. In 2005, Russia withdrew its troops from the frontier. Is Russia planning to return?
We haven’t received any such request from our friends in Tajikistan. So far, they have mainly requested military assistance for their armed forces and equipment for their army. And that is exactly what we are providing.
Russia places great importance on military cooperation with Tajikistan. Who else are you working with?
We are working first and with our allies. That includes the members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, that is, the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. What hasn’t yet worked is cooperation with the countries of Western Europe.
The main problem standing in the way of cooperation with the nations of Western Europe is a lack of trust. In my diplomatic career, I have negotiated and worked with western European countries and with the United States for more than 30 years. Over that time, I often had the feeling that I was only useful to them when I shared their opinion. As soon as I voiced my own opinion and said that I saw things differently to them, I was immediately seen as being conservative and undemocratic.
What does Russia have to offer?
This spreading of scare stories has to stop, rumors that Russia will send its tanks into the Baltics, into Sofia or into Budapest. No one intends to do that. There are no such plans, nothing. Russia does not want war. The very idea of it is ridiculous.
Why do such stories spread? Is it fear of a resurgent Russia? Or is it possibly because Russia cannot be trusted these days?
I wouldn’t tar all European countries with the same brush. In the Baltic states, screaming “the Russians are coming, run for your lives while you still can” is a very old trick. It works and has proved very effective in securing more military spending from the government and also gaining the attention of financial backers in Western Europe: Germany, France, Italy, Spain. But those countries are more pragmatic in their thinking. They understand that it’s impossible to solve the security issues affecting Europe, the Middle East and Asia without Russia’s help.