By M. A. Saki

Ex-NATO deputy chief says he doesn’t think Russia will invade Ukraine

February 5, 2022 - 18:34
Minuto-Rizzo warns against “alarmist remarks” by anybody over the Ukraine crisis

TEHRAN - Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo, the former NATO Secretary-General and current President of the NATO Defense College Foundation, says he does not think that Russia will invade Ukraine.

“I don’t think that in the end, Russia will invade Ukraine,” Minuto-Rizzo tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.

Minuto-Rizzo, an Italian diplomat, also says the dispute between the West and Russia “can be solved through diplomacy and a common understanding.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: The Kremlin has repeatedly denied planning to make an incursion into Ukraine. What do you think? Don’t you think that a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia is being inflated?

A: I don’t think that in the end, Russia will invade Ukraine. But the issue has not been inflated because there has been an exceptional display of troops, planes, and ships, right on the border. Obviously, this is not a normal situation by all standards and it looks as a very serious threat.

Q: What do you think of Russia’s demand that NATO should cease its eastward expansion, roll back its deployments in Eastern Europe, and pledge never to admit Ukraine?

A: Russia is unhappy since the dissolution of the Soviet Union that has diminished the power of the country, creating new national entities. Putin has said several times that this is one of the greatest tragedies of the past century. 

“It is out of question that Russia deserves respect, a great country with a great culture.” He also says that Russia is not sufficiently respected and that the claims of his country are not taken into serious consideration. 

In other words, he thinks that he can have a serious dialogue and a true negotiation only by raising the stakes to the maximum. The Americans and NATO, he thinks, are obliged in this case to negotiate with him a new order in Central Europe. And in terms of conventional forces Russia has a strong margin of superiority in this theatre for the time being.

A first observation is that Ukraine is not a candidate to become a NATO member. There is no application in existence. We are speaking about a future possibility. I don’t think that Ukraine will become a member of the Atlantic Alliance, at least not in the medium term.
On the other hand, Russia has to understand that it is impossible to write in an official document that a sovereign country of more than 40 million people cannot decide its own foreign policy options. It would be a return to the Soviet Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty, that is simply unacceptable today.

Q: Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops close to its border with Ukraine. Some NATO members are also sending fighter jets to Eastern Europe or deploying frigates to the Baltic and Black Seas and taking other steps. What is your analysis of such moves? 

A: NATO has at present some symbolic deployments in its member countries in Eastern Europe. It can well decide to maintain the status quo.
Again, it is difficult to imagine a formal treaty limiting what sovereign countries can do for the future. Especially if they belong to the same organization.

“Nobody in America and in Europe wants to encircle Russia” On the other hand, this issue can be solved through diplomacy and a common understanding. With a long-term dialogue in good faith. With an exchange of serious information about reciprocal moves and intentions. Why to have nuclear weapons? against whom? Nobody has aggressive intentions against the Russian nation and nobody in America and in Europe wants to encircle Russia. It would be against the course of history to have such policies in the heart of Europe!

I think that we have to enter the time of good diplomacy, written in capital letters. And some good practical compromise can be welcome if basic principles are not forced. It is true that the dissolution of the Soviet Union has been a very difficult moment, but this is now history, it was an independent decision and we have inevitably to start from there.

Q: Are there any differences between the U.S. and the Europeans over the Ukraine issue? Also, how do you assess the NATO Secretary General’s remarks in comparison to European Union foreign policy chief in regard to the crisis?

A: It is clear that the United States is much superior vis-à-vis Europe from a military point of view. On the other hand, the European Union is a formidable superpower in terms of soft power. The language is sometimes different between America and Europe, but in the end, history is telling us that there is a basic communality of purposes. Of course, NATO and the European Union are very different and their language is different. But I don't see them going in opposite direction.

Let’s not forget that the sanctions on Russia, after the occupation of Crimea, started in Brussels with the EU.

Q: How do you assess the German position in the dispute between Russia and Ukraine?

A: Germany has a very long tradition of relations with the Russians in a long history with bad and good chapters.

It is understandable that its reflections may have a different intensity. However, Germany, like Italy, have always joined the others when decisions are taken. 

Q: How do you think Russia should be treated?

A: It is out of question that Russia deserves respect, a great country with a great culture. At the same time, it does not mean that we have to agree with Russian political initiatives. Especially if they look extreme.

Q: Don’t you think that alarmist remarks may make the situation blow up?

A: It is always dangerous to raise tensions because an incident cannot be ruled out. It could provoke an unplanned escalation. I think that alarmist remarks should be avoided by everybody and the heat in the discussion should be reduced.

In this context it is useful to notice that the Secretary General of NATO has officially declared that troops would not be sent to Ukraine under no circumstances. The basic fact is that the country is not a NATO member. It seems to me to be a very reasonable and conciliatory statement. Other measures previously taken by some countries were of a symbolic nature. On the other hand, I am afraid that the Russian pressure against the government in Kiev will produce a nationalist reaction and reinforce the identity of that country with a distinct anti-Russian streak.

Q: Aren’t you surprised that NATO and Russia are showing teeth to each other? How can the situation be deescalated?

A: I would never have thought that in 2022 we could see such a dramatic situation in a very dangerous context. With the possibility of unforeseen consequences. 

Again, it is understandable that Russia resents losing the Cold War (to use a term once in use) with many new countries coming into existence. On the other hand, Russia remains, and it openly recognized, a very important international actor. Evidence comes among also by the direct unambiguous dialogue with the President of the United States. 

International security is a priority, we cannot change past history and we have to look at the future more in spirit of cooperation for a lasting peace.

In conclusion, I have the opinion that there will be no war in the end, because it will be against the basic interest of everybody and common sense should prevail.