Anti-terrorism fight is priority in Russia-NATO cooperation

Anti-terrorism fight has become an inalienable part of Russian-NATO military cooperation, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said at the closing of the 3rd international conference "Role of the Military in Anti-Terrorism Fight" held under the auspices of the Russia-NATO Council.

"No one questions the fact that international terrorism is the most dangerous phenomenon for the world civilization and poses threat to the security of separate countries and of humankind on the whole," Mr. Ivanov pointed out.

Russia and NATO have a potential to interact in the new security conditions, "it would be wrong to stop now," he said behind the stage.

According to the minister, Russia and NATO today have a common task of using their Council most efficiently in the new security and stability structure in Europe, of adjusting it to the conditions of new threats and challenges to security.

"To fulfill this task we need transparency and trust in both in separate areas of Russia-NATO military cooperation and in the military policy and planning," Mr. Ivanov said.

"Trust is the term that should define the nature of relations within the anti-terrorist coalition," the Russian minister pointed out.

Groundless selectiveness in cooperation in certain spheres always leads to mistrust and certain concerns in bilateral relations, he believes. "In our opinion, taking into account national interests of every country is a positive element that contributes to international strengthening of stability and international security. Russia is ready to take an active and direct part in the process," Ivanov emphasized.

The minister deems NATO's participation in anti-terrorism fight as insufficient. "We are holding this conference under the auspices of the Russia-NATO Council. Thus, a quite legitimate question is: what is the specific function of the North-Atlantic Alliance in anti-terrorism fight? I must admit I have not heard a clear answer to this question," Mr. Ivanov said.

"It is well known what role Russia is playing in this fight," he pointed out. The country has eradicated a hotspot of international terrorism in Chechnya and ensured real conditions for peace settlement and building of a civil society in the republic, the minister said.

"It is Russia that ensures security of the northern flank of the anti-terrorist coalition in Afghanistan," he emphasized.

He admitted that the efforts of the USA and their allies in anti-terrorism fight were evident, though the tactical disagreements between the US and Russia remained.

"But as to the NATO on the whole, it seems that its leaders are, unfortunately, more engaged in deploying military bases and combat planes as close to the Russian borders as possible," Mr. Ivanov said.

"I can ask directly what the alliance's expansion in Central Europe and in the Baltic states has to do with fight against international terrorism. And I can answer myself: it has none," he underlined.

According to Mr. Ivanov, it is necessary to fight not only terrorism as it is, but also extremism as nourishing grounds for terrorism. "And to do this we need to decisively abolish the principle of double standards, which is still popular in the world politics," the Russian minister concluded.

It is the UN that should act as the ideologist and coordinator in anti-terrorist fight, he believes. "Unilateral action in fight against terrorism can lead to a collapse of the anti-terrorist coalition," he pointed out.

Any action of states and international organizations against terrorists, including use of force, should be based on the norms and principles of international legislation and to be proportional to the threats and well thought out concerning their consequences," Mr. Ivanov emphasized.

"Some time ago understanding of the need to unite our efforts allowed us to change the quality of Russia-NATO relations," said the minister, adding that one of the aspects of such interaction was coordination of anti-terrorist activities of different countries' special services and armed forces.

In a conversation with journalists, who attended the forum Mr. Ivanov pointed out that the conference had not raised the issue of ensuring democratic freedoms in the epoch of anti-terrorism fight and of protecting the rights of victims of terrorism and political extremism.

"I will give only a few ideas on the subject. We should response adequately, quickly, decisively and together to the actions of international terrorists that contradict all moral and legal principles and recognize no borders," he said. In his opinion, the international nature of terrorism requires united efforts of all leading powers and all countries of the world.

At the same time, Mr. Ivanov pointed out that he did not understand the situation around Russia's anti-terrorist efforts in Chechnya.

"Terrorists with their hands smeared with blood of Russian citizens are walking free, travelling from one European country to another, visiting European resorts. Moreover, their speculations about Russia are listened to in the West, and conference are arranged for them," he said.

Despite all the anti-terrorist boom in Europe, "many Russian citizens are denied visas, while terrorists acquire Schengen visas easily," he emphasized. "For example, Akhmed Zakayev, who is on Russia's search warrant, hid at first in Denmark and is now living in Great Britain. In January he visited Germany," the minister said.

According to him, many forget that "flirting with terrorists does not only leads to new victims, but also insults the memory of those killed by their actions". "Victims of terrorist attacks have their rights as well as perpetrators," Mr. Ivanov emphasized.

Also, Russia does not see any real progress in neutralizing the terrorist threat from Afghanistan, the minister said.

"Russia supports anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan. At the same time, despite the massive military presence, the situation in the country remains difficult. We do not see a real progress in neutralizing the terrorist threat from Afghanistan," the minister said.

According to him, terrorist attacks in Afghanistan take lives of soldiers and civilians. Attacks on representatives of international humanitarian organizations still continue, he recalled. "Now and then there are outbreaks of violence between different ethnic and religious groups," he added. Even the system of Afghani authorities lacks unity, Mr. Ivanov pointed out.

"The prospect of holding national elections in Afghanistan scheduled for autumn 2004 remains obscure," he stated.

In his opinion, the reason is simple, "the success of NATO troops in defeating the Taliban regime has not been accompanied by building of a civil society, restoration of the country's economy and integration of the Afghani society in international processes".

Russia is ready to render technical assistance and consultations in arranging operations against Afghani drug trafficking, Mr. Ivanov said. "Russia has repeatedly expressed its hope that peacekeepers and anti-terrorist coalition forces in Afghanistan will also fight against drug trafficking. We welcomed the recent anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, when 1.5 tons of opium were confiscated," the minister said. "Certainly, the work in this sphere will be difficult, careful, but very important for future generations," he believes.

According to Mr. Ivanov, "the Tajik-Afghani border, guarded by Russian frontier troops, has become a place where fight against drug dealers goes on around the clock". Since January 8, 2004, the troops have killed five armed Afghani drug couriers, who were trying to cross the border, he said. "They had two bags of heroin totaling about 35 kg, 15 kg of marijuana, a gun with three magazines, two foreign-made radio stations and means to cross the Afghan-Tajik border river Pyandzh," he said. It is not the only case. According to the UN information, in 2003 Afghanistan harvested 3,600 tons of opium, which accounts for three fourths of the world's illegal production, he pointed out. "After procession this will yield over 300 tons of heroin," the minister emphasized. Annual turnover of Afghani drugs amounts to $30 billion and involves over 1.5 million people, he said. "Only very naive people may fail to understand that a large share of drug money is allocated to finance extremist and terrorist organizations," he underlined.

Mr. Ivanov also touched upon the situation in Kosovo. In his opinion, the stabilization operation there has "in fact failed". According to him, "today it is perfectly clear that the attempts to appease extremists among Kosovo Albanians, who seek to form a mono-ethnic society, have failed and created a serious danger for the destabilization of the whole region." The NATO has to understand at last that "it is impossible to flirt with political extremists, with vandals, who destroy monuments in Kosovo listed in UNESCO registries, who kill civilians or drive them out of their homes."

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