Europe

Russia: Terrorism is the fault of the West

Boy stands in front of Russian police officers during festive concert marking second anniversary of Russia"s annexation of Crimea in central Moscow Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Moscow marks the second anniversary of the annexation of Crimea

A conference often has an official theme or issue that features in all the panel discussions and debates.

At this year's Moscow International Security Conference, the official theme is fighting terrorism.

But there is an unofficial theme, too - blaming the West.

A string of Russian military figures and experts have accused the US and Nato of causing global insecurity and waging an "information war" against Moscow.

"Terrorism has become the number one problem for all of us," said Russia's Defence Minister, Sergey Shoygu.

He promptly went on to accuse the US and Nato of "building up military infrastructure close to Russia's borders and carrying out dangerous plans for missile defence".

Speaking at the conference, the Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, said the rise of terrorism was partly the result of "attempts to transfer the values of Western democracy to countries with their own mentality, spiritual values and traditions... this had exploded North Africa and the Middle East".

When I ask Veronika Krasheninnikova, a member of the Russian Public Chamber, who she views as the greatest threat in the world today, she points to Washington.

"The biggest threat is the adventurous military and political policy of some countries, like the US and its close allies, in the Middle East," she tells me.

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Forget Crimea

Mr Shoygu described the security situation in Europe as "deplorable".

But neither he nor any other Russian official has acknowledged Moscow's annexation of Crimea is in any way responsible for this state of affairs.

Crimea is not on the conference agenda.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A billboard in Crimea says: "Crimea. Russia. Forever"

"For the Russian leadership, the question of Crimea is now closed," Russia's ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Alexander Lukashevich, tells me.

The message from Moscow is clear - Russia wants improved relations with the West, but the West must accept Russia as it is.

"One of the common themes of this conference is that we need to rethink issues, rethink the security environment, rethink our relationship," says Richard Weitz, from US think tank the Hudson Institute.

"But when you get specific, what they're saying is that the West needs to rethink its approach to Russia."

But, if Russia is serious about improving ties with the West, doesn't it take two to tango? Ms Krasheninnikova is in no mood to share the dance-floor.

"It takes two to tango, but it takes one to start a war," she tells me. "It takes one country to bomb other countries such as Libya."

"The West would argue, 'It takes one country to annex Crimea,'" I respond.

"Wasn't what Russia did in Crimea a watershed moment for international security?"

"It wasn't Russia that annexed Crimea," Ms Krasheninnikova replies.

"It was Crimea that ran away from the Kiev regime after a state coup."

When it comes to security issues, it often feels as if Russia and the West are talking past each other. But some delegates here sense cause for optimism.

"The Russians are always blaming the Americans, of course, and we have a lot of reasons to blame Russia, as well, for example on Crimea," says August Henning, former director of Germany's Federal Intelligence Agency.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sergey Shoygu blames the West for global insecurity

"But my impression is that there is more openness in Russia to go ahead and find solutions.

"We should do this in a more discreet manner, not publicly - that would be not be very helpful.

Mr Henning says a solution to the question of Crimea is possible.

"I have made some proposals privately, even on Crimea," he tells me.

"I have no doubt the majority of the population of Crimea voted for being part of Russia.

"Nevertheless, the way it happened is not acceptable for us.

"My idea is to try to establish a free trade zone in Crimea, we should try to have a [kind of] Hong Kong, for example, in consensus with Ukraine, with the West, with the European Union.

"We need more [imagination] for this question. Now is not the time, but there may be an opportunity in the future."