Interview with Aivar Valdre, Baltic News Service

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC
November 8, 2006

Baltic News Service: I would like to ask the first question about the President’s visit to Estonia. What is the purpose of this visit and what would be his message?

Assistant Secretary Fried: President Bush has in almost every trip to Europe visited one of the new democracies of Europe, post 1989 Europe, and he has always been most enthusiastic about his trips there because these are countries who have made the most of their recently regained freedom.

They’re countries who understand freedom because they understand life without it. What countries like Estonia or Poland or Slovakia or Romania have done has demonstrated that freedom’s potential is great, that change can be for the better, and that freedom can take root in places where many thought it could never succeed. Not the people of the Baltic countries, surely. You all knew you were destined to return to Europe, but many outside doubted it.

Now the President will go to Estonia both to celebrate the achievements but also talk about the task that we in the transatlantic community have as members of a free world, to help others who are similarly striving.

BNS: Could there be any discussions about global security?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I’m sure there will be these kinds of discussions.

Estonia had a terrible 20th Century because the democratic powers of the West did not understand that freedom was indivisible. You know the history. You lived the history. You and your family, every family in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, all the way down to the Black Sea. The Western powers did not do what they should have done. The Baltic countries were too far away, we thought. We thought we didn’t have interests there. And look what happened. We all suffered, though we did not suffer equally. The people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania suffered more. We will not make that mistake again, and many of us pledged to ourselves in 1989 that we would not make that mistake again. We would not regard the Baltic countries as too far away.

Now you are members of NATO and the European Union. So now, as members of that transatlantic family, we have an obligation to look beyond our shores. That doesn’t mean we have an obligation to intervene everywhere or foolishly, but we have an obligation to look at the world and not forget those who are striving to be free and find ways to help them politically, diplomatically, principally.

BNS: It was surprising news today. Who will come as Defense Secretary to Riga?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld would probably not have come anyway to the NATO Summit. Defense Secretaries do not always appear, so the issue wouldn’t have arisen.

I believe the President announced today his intention to nominate Gates, Robert Gates. But this is a matter for the Senate now, and there will be a confirmation process which will take some time. In any event, Secretary Rumsfeld remains Secretary of Defense, but I’m not aware that he would have gone anyway.

BNS: Next question about Riga then. In what lies the importance of this summit and what decisions can we expect from it?

Assistant Secretary Fried: First of all, it is a great thing that NATO can have a summit in a country whose membership in NATO ten years ago was regarded as unlikely, to say the least. Now, not only is Latvia a member of NATO, but NATO is having a summit there. It shows how far the frontiers of freedom have advanced. This ought to be a matter of great pride for the Latvians themselves, first of all. They are the ones who did what it was necessary to do to join the European Union and NATO, not us. The hard work was done by them, by the citizens of Latvia.

NATO is changing from its Cold War incarnation and its Cold War status into an alliance with a greater reach. It has the same mission it always had, which is the defense of its members, the Article 5 defense, and it takes that responsibility seriously. But in the 21st Century that responsibility needs to be carried out in places that are unexpected. The first time NATO voted to invoke Article 5 was in response to September 11th, so on September 10th no one expected that two days later it would be invoked for the sake of the United States for an attack which originated in Afghanistan. My God, no one would have thought that.

But that demonstrates that the alliance has to develop more expeditionary capabilities and a kind of global horizon. This does not mean that NATO becomes “global”. NATO remains a transatlantic organization, but its missions may take place where they are needed.

It also seems to be very much in Latvia’s interest to be part of an alliance that can operate at strategic distance. It means you’re part of an alliance which is active, not simply in theory and on paper, but in battle.

The argument that Afghanistan is far away — therefore, we have no interest now — that makes me uncomfortable, because there was once upon a time Latvia was too far away, so to speak. There is no place that is too far away necessarily. NATO must choose where it becomes involved and when it does so choose, it must succeed. Though, success is not purely military in Afghanistan. Other factors are critical. It’s an important summit in NATO’s transformation.

And, by the way, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are pulling their weight. They are not passive members of the alliance. They are not consumers of security, they are active providers.

BNS: That was my next question, actually. How do you see the contribution of the new members of NATO, including the Baltic states?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We are proud to be in an alliance with countries who are sending their soldiers in solidarity along with ours. There are Estonian soldiers in the south. In fact, this morning I talked to one of the heads of our PRTs [Provincial Reconstruction Teams] in Kandahar who mentioned that she sees Estonian soldiers every day and thinks they’re doing a great job. Lithuania has made a success of its PRT in Afghanistan. They took it seriously. Latvia has done a terrific job with its contingent.

Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania don’t have large militaries. You don’t have aircraft carriers. You don’t have big air forces. But what capacities you have, you contribute. I’m very glad, for instance, that NATO has been conducting the air policing missions on a rotating basis. I’ve had Baltic officials explain to me that because of the resources that frees up, you’re able to participate in NATO operations.

So NATO has lots of fighter aircraft. Other NATO countries contribute what they have to your defense; you contribute what you have on NATO missions. I see this as a model of how NATO should work, with mutual solidarity and mutual commitment. It’s a good thing.

BNS: When could a new round of enlargement of NATO be expected and who could be the potential new members?

Assistant Secretary Fried: The Riga Summit will not extend new invitations; that we’ve decided. We do believe that NATO enlargement should continue. It has been a great success.

There are three countries in the so-called Adriatic Charter — Albania, Macedonia, Croatia. These three countries want to join the alliance, they’re part of the Membership Action Plan. President Bush recently said he believes that Croatia will deserve an invitation probably in 2008. That doesn’t mean we exclude it for Albania or Macedonia either. So they’re clearly candidates that we have to look at closely.

Georgia and Ukraine are in a somewhat different category. Ukraine isn’t sure how fast it wants to pursue NATO membership, so let’s give them a chance to think it through. Georgia, they’ve got a lot of work to do and they’ve got a lot of pressure from the Russians and we have to allow their progress to take place slowly, as they build their institutions and settle their conflicts. We can show solidarity with them in support of peaceful solutions to the frozen conflicts and work with them step by step.

BNS: What is your view of the nervous reaction by Russia to ex-Soviet republics getting closer to NATO?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I think that NATO’s enlargement has been good for Russia. Let me explain what I mean. NATO membership is a stabilizing factor, both regionally and for countries. The prospect of NATO and EU membership — because they’re really part of the same civilizational process of freedom’s advance — has meant that a part of Europe that was seen as unstable and prone to conflict has become very stable. High growth, increasing social peace. Of course, problems. Of course, in some cases poor infrastructure or corruption or various issues. No country is perfect. Clearly trend lines are in the right direction, generally speaking. That is good for Russia. It is good for Russia to have, generally speaking, prospering democracies to its west.

To prove the point, consider the alternative. Suppose all of the countries to Russia’s west were fighting with each other and unstable or nationalistic dictatorships? We know what that kind of Central Europe looks like. We had that in the 1930s. Who wants that? That turned out to be very bad for Russia. It ends poorly for everybody.

So Russia will not thank NATO for enlarging, but NATO enlargement has, in fact, been good for Russia in that sense. No one can seriously believe that NATO is going to attack Russia. That is somewhere between absurd and a silly joke. We want to work with Russia as a partner. I know the Baltic countries want to work with Russia. You have a lot of history to get through. We never recognized the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but Russia is not responsible for that. They could claim, and some have claimed, to have also been victims of communism. The historical record is complicated, but there’s no reason Russia has to take responsibility for what Stalin did. So I don’t accept that NATO enlargement is anti-Russian.

BNS: But they are sometimes quite nervous on this issue.

Assistant Secretary Fried: That’s true.

BNS: Why?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, you’ll have to ask them, because I see no rational reason for it. NATO is not an aggressive, militaristic organization which is going to attack Russia. It just isn’t. In fact, NATO enlargement has stabilized Russia’s western, the area, as I said, to Russia’s west. I think it is wrong for Russia or anyone to see that Latvia or Estonia must choose to be friends with Russia or part of the transatlantic community. Why is that choice necessary? Why can’t a country be a member of the transatlantic community and have a good relationship with Russia? France does. The UK does. Denmark does. If Denmark, why not Latvia?

I don’t see why in rational terms this is impossible. As for the irrational, I recognize it but I don’t have to respect it, and I certainly don’t have to be guided by it.

BNS: Okay. So the next question is, Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, Dmitri Trenin, wrote in the Foreign Affairs magazine that Russian leaders have given up on becoming part of the West and have started creating their own Moscow-centered system. Your view of that?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We want to have good relations with Russia. Good relations with Russia are in everyone’s interest. We want to see Russia as a partner. Russia now is undergoing two transformations which are difficult. It’s undergoing a post-communist transformation. It is also undergoing a kind of post-imperial transformation, if you think of the loss of the Soviet Empire. These are very difficult historically, and the 1990s were a very difficult period for Russia. They were a good decade for Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania. They were not good for Russia, and we have to understand this.

I think Russia is looking for its place in the world. I think that the period of Russian history when Russian prospects were best — when it was not simply a follower but a leader in the world in art, science, culture, literature, music, with a rapidly growing, prospering economy — was, of course, the generation before 1914, the Golden Age, the Silver Age, a period we, out of living memory by and large, but we are familiar with it. That was the period when Russia was also part of the West. It was seen as part of the diplomatic family of Western nations. Russia had a difference, but so did the United States.

So if that’s true, then there’s no reason why Russia cannot be true to its own historical traditions and culture, and a leader and part of the West.

I’m not saying this is where Russia is today, but my point is that Russia can strive for this. We all know and we all appreciate the achievements of Russian culture. This is a people of enormous potential and great creativity. We all appreciate this.

So I think a search for third ways, or Eurasianism, or isolationism, is a great pity, because I look at the lost opportunity of Russia under the late Czarist period, reformers like Sergei Witte, or even Pyotr Stolypin, as a great lost opportunity. What a tragedy.

Now, of course, your countries were part of the Russian Empire then, but nevertheless, two world wars and communism and Stalinism are a terrible price. Now, after all of that, we’re back with the opportunity to realize a better future in the 21st Century.

You understand the historical references because your countries have lived them.

BNS: Some of us.

Assistant Secretary Fried: I’m trying to put this into some kind of context because it isn’t all diplomatic talking points. There are great historical forces. As you see, I respect Russian culture enormously, as well as being a friend of the Baltic countries.

BNS: Don’t you find that Russia is sliding away from democracy right now and may pose a threat also to its neighbors?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I very much regret some of the difficult trends in Russian democracy. Obviously the murder of Anna Politkovskaya was a shock, and the weakness of the free press in Russia, the state control is of concern. We have said so repeatedly. A strong nation needs strong independent institutions.

America isn’t strong just because we have a strong President in the White House. We’re strong because we have strong institutions of government which balance each other because we have a strong free press, because we have strong, utterly independent institutions. We have a federal system — each governor has his own tax base.

A strong nation has strong institutions — not one institution, but many. A strong Russia needs a strong society, not just a strong Kremlin.

Is Russia a threat to its neighbors? Well, I think having democratic, prosperous neighbors would be good for Russia. I very much regret the recent tensions with, say, Georgia. Georgia wants nothing more than what Estonia and Latvia already have. We should support Georgia in those aspirations. Now, of course, Georgia has a responsibility to work with Russia, and, of course, there is no solution except a peaceful solution to the problem of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. War talk is very dangerous, as well as damaging. But we should all support Georgia’s legitimate right to find its way in the world. Georgia should do, frankly, what Estonia and Latvia learned to do, which is do its best to get along with Russia and at the same time seek their own way in the world.

I regret very much Russia’s economic pressure against Georgia. A ban of wine, of water? Depriving Russians of Psinandali wine or Borjomi water seems terrible. It’s just so un-Russian not to have Georgian wine. But it’s a serious business.

But economic pressure against a small country is a problem. That shouldn’t be.

Russia should reach out to its neighbors. I think reaching out would naturally create a kind of sympathetic echo. I don’t think Estonians and Latvians are anti-Russian, I just think you wanted your country back. When you get your country back then you can be friends with your larger neighbor. I think the same is true with Georgia.

BNS: Do you see that Russia uses its energy potential as a weapon? In politics, let’s say?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Oil and natural gas ought to be part of an open system on commercial terms. Open to investment upstream, open to investment downstream. Price set by commercial factors, not used politically. Of course we all regretted what happened last New Year’s with the Ukraine gas business.

Russia will make billions and billions of dollars off of the sale of energy — perfectly legitimately. Their resource, they will sell it, the West will buy it, other countries will buy it, but this completely natural arrangement should take place on open terms, not closed ones.

We certainly believe in diversification of sources because we don’t believe in monopolies, not for anybody. Monopolies are not good, but diversity is good. Diversity will help lead to competition. Competition leads to better economic outcomes. That’s certainly what we believe ought to be the case. Europe is thinking through these questions. We’re thinking through them. In the end, Russia should certainly not be afraid of an open system. These are talented people. They can compete on normal terms. They’re smart. They know what they’re doing in the world, and I hope that’s the path that’s chosen.

BNS: When President Putin was answering people’s questions on a live television broadcast lately, a middle-aged man asked what will become of the Russian people and Russia when Putin has gone? What is your opinion on that?

Assistant Secretary Fried: My opinion? I’ll tell you, one time the former President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, put it this way: In a normal country there are many ex-Presidents, none in jail, and one sitting President. That’s a normal country. He said some day I will be an ex-President, and Poland will have a new President and it will be a normal country.

BNS: [Inaudible], of course.

Assistant Secretary Fried: See, normal politics is not a frightening thing. There will be a new President in Russia elected in free and fair elections, we hope. Life will go on.

Of course Estonia has a new President. Latvia will have a new President. Politics happens. Sometimes it’s exciting, sometimes it’s exhausting, but it is better than the alternative.

BNS: I see. Thank you very much.

Assistant Secretary Fried: My pleasure. I hope you enjoyed our politics.

BNS: I forgot to ask, what would be the outcome? Is there any change in U.S. foreign policy?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Issues of NATO in Europe are more bipartisan than people realize. I think our commitment to the Baltic states has gone through three Presidents — Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 — and this is only after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is bipartisan, and I’m proud of it.

BNS: Thank you very much.

Assistant Secretary Fried: My pleasure.