TCS talks to Russian Ambassador, Alexander Kramarenko

Lewis Thomas 9 May 2017

There is an element of regret to Alexander Kramarenko’s view of NATO-Russia relations. Not regret as to their current poor state; he sees this as a natural result of the tensions that have emerged in recent years. Instead, there is an element of regret that matters have got this far. “My personal opinion is that, let’s say, twenty years ago, in the mid 1990s, if our Western parents were much more welcoming and invited us to join NATO without any preconditions, we would have saved a lot of trouble, for ourselves in particular. It would have destroyed the old, Cold War NATO, and would have become a region-wide military security organisation.”

This destruction did not come about, with matters instead turning towards further tension. “The existence of NATO as an exclusive club of Western nations – and those Central and Eastern European nations that have chosen to join NATO – is a petty-minded strategy, and it sounds like an old-fashioned encirclement of Russia. Bringing NATO borders to our Western border? It’s utterly counterproductive. The problem is that the time of the old fashioned, cumbersome, military alliances – to fight someone – has long passed. There is no need to have competing military alliances in preparation for a major war. There is no war on the agenda – certainly, there might be some incidents, some misunderstandings – but I do not think those would evolve into a major European war. It is unthinkable, because the state of development of European countries is such that the disruption of critical infrastructure, even for a very short period of time, is almost lethal.”

Mr. Kramarenko has short shrift for the idea that Russia, through hacking, has interfered with this infrastructure, arguing that it is “utterly insulting for a grown up people, like the British or American electorate, to think that they could be influenced from abroad, especially by Russia”. Hacking has as been “a common phenomenon over the past few years, and it’s difficult to trace it to a particular government body, or even a particular people. The accusations against the Russian government have got to be based on some hard evidence, and there is none as I understand it. That is why it has been used to influence the new American administration – to normalise them.”

He also argues that hacking can show flaws in a system: “If it [the democratic process] is not that open and straightforward, then certainly hacking could do something about the process – it could distort it. But if it’s done in an ideal fashion, then no hacking can distort it.”

The hacking issue ties into what Mr. Kramarenko sees as the “demonisation” of Russia in sections of Western society, with an oppositional mindset creating a threat that does not exist, and hampering cooperation between Russia and its strategic partners in both Europe and Asia. Instead of criticising Russia, the West should come to the table and engage, seeking to ensure that “a stable trading and economic order” prevails in the region. This analysis also applies to Russia’s engagement in Asia, with Kramarenko expressing a desire to work with Asian partners to ensure cooperation between the nations.

Cooperation, not opposition. An open mind, rather than demonisation. In his statements at the Union, Mr. Kramarenko has demonstrated a desire for reconciliation and cooperation between Russia and the West – whether those statements are borne out in the policies of their governments remains to be seen.