SYRIZA’s foreign policy chief: Russia has a place in Europe’s security system

Georgios Katrougalos SYRIZA

Georgios Katrougalos, SYRIZA’s foreign policy chief, spoke to Sputnik Hellas about Greece’s stance on relations between Russia and the West, which are strained by Ukraine.

The former foreign minister stressed that Russia should “have a place in Europe’s architectural security system”, noting that he fully understands the need for Russia to “feel free from encirclement.”

Russia is in need of a compromise “of these different views of threat in a system based on international law.”

Citing the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) “Istanbul Charter”, he clarified that “states will not increase their security to the detriment of the security of another state.”

He stated that there should be no new Cold War but that “there should be a new integration of Russia into a new security architecture.”

The SYRIZA foreign policy chief said that “war is not a way to resolve differences” and that “international relations (should) be based on rules and not on force.”

“Greece considers the sanctions counterproductive,” Katrougalos emphasised, adding that the de-escalation, “both at the level of rhetoric and at the level of concentration of military forces is the first step.”

Finally, he stressed that the Minsk agreements must be fully implemented and that Greece “in no case considers Russia a hostile power.”

The interview with George Katrougalos in detail

– Russian President Putin made the famous “Munich speech” 15 years ago, which affected international relations. You then worked in the international sector of SYRIZA. How did you perceive this speech?

President Putin’s diplomatic positions are stable. Both in Munich in 2007 and in Valdai in 2014.

They are the same. Russia’s position is that the security of one country should be indivisible, not to the detriment of another. That there should be rules. That the Cold War ended without a record of the agreements and that left a gap.

And of course it is combined with the internal effort to restore power in the Russian Federation.

Greece’s position is also clear.

We believe, first of all, that there should be rules based on international law in the relations between states.

This means that certain basic principles must be respected by all states: Territorial sovereignty.

We also believe that Russia should have a place in Europe’s architectural security system.

We do not agree with some extreme positions that want Russia to be out of the security system.

I can tell you that now, from my presence in the Council of Europe, I see such efforts to leave again, to expel Russia from the Council of Europe.

The vast majority of MEPs in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reject such positions.

– Regarding speech. Why did Greek politicians say that “Putin united the West against Russia”? Why did they think his speech was aggressive? 

The big issue between Russia, the United States and NATO countries is the extent of NATO expansion.

The NATO Charter stipulates that any country may have the right to participate there.

President Putin’s position, as mentioned above, is for the indivisibility of security and that the security of one should not burden the security of another.

We have seen this later in various crises that have taken place, in the conflict in Georgia, in the recent conflict in Ukraine, to have this content.

My view is always in favour of diplomacy and the need to always understand the fears and vital interests of each side.

In Europe we now have a situation where there are countries that for historical reasons consider Russia a threat (Poland and the Baltic countries).

On the other hand, I fully understand the need for Russia to feel free from encirclement.

So there must be a compromise of these different views of threat in a system based on international legitimacy.

– How can we unite our positions?

In 1999, there was a key text of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) called the “Istanbul Summit,” to which everyone agreed. Both Russia and the Western powers.

I have an important excerpt to read to you from there, because I think that reflects exactly what was agreed upon then. It is the balance of power and we could consider it as the  “golden rule” to be able to find a balance.

It is Article 8.

It says: “[Each state] will not strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other States. Within the OSCE no State, group of States or organisation can have any pre-eminent responsibility for maintaining peace and stability in the OSCE area or can consider any part of the OSCE area as its sphere of influence.”

I think that shows exactly how we should move, the principles. Now the details each time should be discussed among those who have a direct interest.

I see a major problem that now in the tension with Ukraine, the European Union is absent. The main negotiation is between the US and Russia.

This is a problem because it is a European issue.

Europe should be directly involved.

One of the key issues I see is how the Minsk agreements on Ukraine should be implemented. This is the key issue.

– But Kiev does not implement the agreements.

There is a more general issue of implementation of the agreement. All parties should implement it. This is my view and that of Greece in general.

– Russia has the same opinion.

Bad lies, one side accuses the other of non-compliance with the agreement. I do not want to get into this part.

As I told you before, we must first agree on the principles and then see how they are implemented each time.

– How do you see the foreign policy of the West after 2007, after the Munich speech? Has it changed?

First of all, there is no uniform Western policy. Even within the United States, there is no consensus on how Russia should be treated.

There are those who believe that a new Cold War is inevitable and there are others who believe that diplomacy can provide solutions.

My view is that Europe must have its own voice, its own strategic autonomy, make every sacrifice to avoid a new Cold War, to have a new integration of Russia into a new security architecture. As the OSCE said in 1999.

– Do not you think that now we have a new Cold War?

There is a beginning of the Cold War. There are statements that seem to consider even a hot war inevitable.

I personally find this particularly problematic.

When you talk about war – even if no one wants it – it can happen by mistake or by accident. What we call a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The first issue we all have to decide is that war is not a way to resolve differences, that it can be resolved through diplomacy and dialogue.

– You have said that there must be a united Western policy. In 2009, Greece banned NATO membership for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia due to name differences. Now what do you think? Are there any NATO member states that oppose NATO expansion in Ukraine and Georgia?

As I said before, this is an issue that is not easy to answer. In principle, every state must have the right to self-determination and to join the alliances it seeks.

On the other hand, however, we must also keep in mind the general balance of power – this system of architectural security I said.

Therefore, I do not want to talk specifically about what each country will do.

As I told you, I think all bona fide people should insist on adhering to principles. I have said before that I believe that the framework then formulated is what should guide our actions.

– And commitments as well.

And commitments. International relations should always be based on rules and not on force.

This is the key priority we must all have. To have a system of international legitimacy that we all respect.

– In terms of sanctions, in recent years, not only after Crimea but also before, tensions with Russia have peaked with anti-Russian sanctions. Do you see prospects for lifting the sanctions?

Greece generally considers the sanctions counterproductive. Greece believes that it would be better to insist on dialogue.

Of course, our political home is the European Union and we apply the sanctions.

We believe, however, that the most basic way in which these differences can be resolved is through diplomacy and dialogue, as I mentioned above.

We have seen, after all, that these sanctions have not significantly improved the situation.

There were, in fact, cases where we did not consider that there was a valid reason for their application – I told you that we are defending sovereignty and territorial integrity.

When the sanctions for Skripal for example, Greece and three other European countries came up for discussion in the Council of Europe – because they had doubts about what really happened – they did not impose sanctions.

– A few days ago, the Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of SYRIZA said that “immediate de-escalation is required”.

This is the key always. We said before that a key priority is not to have a war.

So de-escalation, both in terms of rhetoric and in terms of the concentration of military forces is the first step.

– As Foreign Minister – a very important position in government and in the world – and as Foreign Minister in the main opposition, how do you see the development of events?

Like I told you, there is cause for concern.

As long as large military forces are concentrated in an area, even if no one is seeking war, there can be an accident, a collision, even by mistake.

That is why I believe that the tone of the rhetoric should be dropped immediately, we should bring back to the diplomatic table for how the Minsk agreements will be fully implemented, we should have the withdrawal of military forces and in this way we can actually reach a solution through dialogue.

The Russian side in the last weeks and months and during the visit of the Prime Minister, Mr. Mitsotakis to Russia, expressed its concern about the new American bases.

Now they are waiting for the agreement with the US to come to the Parliament.

What is the position of SYRIZA? Will you support this agreement?

We will not vote in favour of the agreement, mainly because it is expected to last indefinitely. In other words, we will not have the opportunity every year to assess whether or not it is advantageous to renew certain aspects of it.

On the other hand, we believe that these bases should not be considered to be directed against any country. The policy of our country is always a peaceful policy.

We have our alliances, but we have always wanted our country to be a bridge between our political home, which is the European Union, and powers like Russia, with which we have traditionally had very friendly relations.

So we by no means do we consider Russia an enemy power. We believe that we can be a bridge between our own political house and the Russian Federation.

– So you do not see the need for these bases?

No, I did not say that, because we were also negotiating for the bases. I’m just telling you that we believe that these bases should not be considered by definition to be directed against any country.

Only in the context of a defensive dimension do we consider that they can exist.

– What can you say about the negotiations on Russia’s security guarantees?

I fully understand Russia’s position, that is, the need to strengthen its own security. And this can only be done in the context of a new security architecture in Europe.

It is not easy, but we did it during the Soviet Union with the Helsinki Accords. I do not see why it can not be done now.

The secret is this: Always know the core of the other party’s interests and reach a solution that has a balance of interests so that neither side feels that its vital interests are being harmed.

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