Director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Security Affairs and Disarmament Mikhail Ulyanov's interview with Kommersant

March 31, 2016.

Question: Could you comment on Ben Rhodes’ statement regarding Russia’s self-isolation?

Mikhail Ulyanov: This assessment sounds strange even from a formal standpoint. After all, just over 50 countries have come together at the Washington summit. The others were not invited even though many of them have nuclear power facilities and nuclear materials. The Americans have never bothered to justify such a selective approach towards issuing invitations, and when they were asked questions in this regard, they dodged them. So even if Russia has ended up in isolation, it is in isolation together with 150 other states. The only difference is that unlike the others, we have received an invitation.

Question: And if we get down to brass tacks?

Mikhail Ulyanov: Then even more questions arise. Russia has a well-established reputation as a key state in the international efforts to strengthen physical nuclear security, including the physical protection of nuclear installations and materials. Suffice it to say that in conjunction with the United States, we are co-chairs of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), which we jointly put forward in 2006. Within the framework of this informal association, which already brings together about 100 countries, we and the Americans determine to a very large degree the key areas of the international efforts to strengthen physical nuclear security. So, is this isolation? In addition, we are actively involved in considering issues of physical nuclear security at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and have a significant impact on the recommendations that are made within its framework, which are often followed by its member states. In this context, I believe there is good reason to say that the US assessments are not objective and are dictated by emotions rather than by the real state of things.

Question: Emotions?

Mikhail Ulyanov: To all appearances, the Americans have been irked by the fact that Russia, which is a world leader in nuclear energy, has not deemed it possible to accept the invitation to the summit in the US capital.

Question: Did Russia have a reason for this?

Mikhail Ulyanov: First, we believe that the political agenda of such events, which requires the direct participation of heads of state, was completely exhausted during the previous top-level meetings that took place in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Now there is a need simply to work thoroughly on the expert level, above all, within the framework of the IAEA.

Second, the US organisers of the summit themselves prodded us towards a negative decision when they drastically changed the rules of the preparatory work without consulting anyone. They decided to set up five working groups, asking each state that was invited to choose one. The possibility of participation in other groups was ruled out from the start. Only the United States, South Korea and the Netherlands, as hosts of previous such events, were in a position to fully monitor and influence preparations in all working groups. The results of these groups’ work have now been submitted to the summit for approval. However, we cannot approve – especially at the top level – documents that were worked out without our participation. By the way, at a certain stage, the Americans partly acknowledged their mistake, giving the countries that received invitations more leeway to follow the preparations, but this did not go far enough and it came too late.

Third, we also had a problem with the fact that the aforementioned working groups were supposed to develop certain plans of action in the area of physical nuclear security for the IAEA, the UN, GICNT, Interpol and Global Partnership. This is a dubious idea, considering that the scope of participants in the Washington summit is rather limited. From the perspective of those who have for some reason not been invited to Washington, this can be regarded as an attempt by a relatively small group of countries to impose their own agenda on international agencies with a far larger membership. This is undemocratic and at odds with normal international practices, to say the least. Such issues should be dealt with by international organisations themselves, with the participation of all their members and without obtrusive advice from the outside.

Question: If this kind of summit is held somewhere again in two years, will Russia attend it?

Mikhail Ulyanov
: From all indications, the present summit in Washington is the last. Nevertheless, work on physical nuclear security will continue, with the central role of the IAEA. Recognising the high relevance of these issues, Russia will continue to be actively involved in them, despite the “self-isolation” remarks coming from across the ocean.