What similarities do you see in the reforms of the Russian and U.S. armed forces?

There are certain similarities but they are not extensive. We must bear in mind that the United States has a volunteer army equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and military equipment and an exceptional cutting-edge command system, which has repeatedly been proven over the past two decades. Russia has none of that, and considering the latest changes, we are moving in the opposite direction, especially in terms of the quality of the military personnel. The transition to a volunteer army has been almost abandoned or rejected, the number of contract servicemen is decreasing and there are attempts to make up for the lack of military personnel by drafting people who are not fit for military service. There are also rumors that the term of service may be extended. In this respect the Russian and U.S. armed forces are almost poles apart rather than simply different. However, there are certain similarities. For example, the introduction of smaller military units in the Russian armed forces takes us away from last century military planning that is from large-scale wars in a combat theater or even global wars waged with conventional weapons and armed forces. Now the focus will shift to local conflicts and peacekeeping and pacification operations.

There is a new trend in the Russian ground forces. The United States has been moving in this direction more decisively, which can be accounted for by their geopolitical location and geostrategic position. One way or another, over the past twenty years the United States have been preparing for wars like this. We can see this in their exercises, personnel training, improving the quality of personnel, military planning and the supply of military equipment and weaponry for operations. There is a similarity in this aspect.

Another similarity exists in theory more than in practice. I’m referring to the cooperation on the development of new weapons and military vehicles. I’m glad to see that we have begun openly discussing these issues with the European countries recently. I’m speaking about the purchase of French landing ships, Italian armored vehicles and joint efforts on designing cutting-edge aircraft. Considering Russia’s massive research capacity, cooperation like this with the United States is also possible. This relates to combat theater anti-missile defense issues and the compatibility of our missile launch warning and monitoring systems, which is closely connected with the proliferation of missile technologies. These issues are on the agenda. I don’t know what proposals Anatoly Serdyukov will make during his visit but this can theoretically be an important point in the negotiations and consequently the cooperation between Russia and the United States.

What areas of military and political cooperation between Russia and the United States are the most promising to your mind? What role do joint military exercises play in extending this cooperation?

Afghanistan is beyond all doubt number one. The United States, having left Iraq with deplorable results, cannot afford to pull out of Afghanistan in the same manner. They need positive results. Even despite the fact that they have set a deadline for withdrawing the troops, the United States will not leave that country without achieving its goals. Otherwise, it would be tantamount to the break-up of NATO and recognition of defeat in a lawful operation sanctioned by the UN Security Council and all countries in question, including Afghanistan’s neighbors, which is simply unthinkable. 

Russia should play the central role in this issue and Russia’s influence in this area is gradually increasing. There are only a few steps left to make. The United States and NATO should recognize the Collective Security Treaty Organization and bridge direct cooperation with it, divide the areas of responsibility and plan joint operations to ensure stability in Afghanistan and stop drug trafficking. The vast funds that the United States has been spending on the war in Iraq have to be redirected to Afghanistan’s economic development to replace drug production and trafficking with the country’s traditional agriculture. There is a lot to be done on this issue and the United States and Russia and their allies, as well as neutral states, including India and China, may take an active part in this because they are all interested in it.

Afghanistan is a unique country because all the global and regional powers, even those that have certain disputes between them, share a clear interest in Afghanistan, and the United States and Russia are in the lead. 

Naturally, another sphere of cooperation is the fight against international terrorism and the collaboration between the security services. The Defense Ministry is not directly in charge for these issues but there are certain aspects related to the armed forces. Primarily, these are joint military operations to fight terrorism and transnational crime and operations against pirates, which have long required a systematic and consolidated basis. There have been enough separate operations by fleets of individual countries. We need to build a cooperation which, to my mind, will help save resources and raise the efficiency of the operations and not only in the Indian Ocean because pirate activities are intensifying in the southern Atlantic Ocean and along Africa’s western coast. Pirates have always been active in South-East Asia, especially around Indonesia, and they are becoming even more active. It’s time we got down to it seriously and stopped the nonsense of fleets practicing operations against one another. A war like this will never happen. We have to train actual operations and improve their efficiency. We have to respond to the existing security threats rather than imagined or outdated ones. The cooperation on this issue must be a priority.

To your mind, how likely is the START III to be ratified by the U.S. Congress especially in view of the upcoming November elections?

The chances that this treaty will be ratified are much higher than 50%. Whether this will happen before the elections or in the period after the elections, when the new Senate comes into office after Christmas, is still an open question. The second option is possible but it will be more politically complicated because the decision will be taken by senators who will soon have to leave the Congress. It is certainly better to hold the vote before the elections and the only thing we can be sure of now is that the chances of this treaty being ratified are above 50% and even 60%.

This interview originally appeared on the Valdai Discussion Club site.