Director of the Department for New Challenges and Threats Ilya Rogachev’s interview with Interfax News Agency, September 28, 2017

Sunday, 01 October 2017 16:23

Question: What marked the high-level week at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in the counterterrorism context? Have you had any meetings on the sidelines of the GA with US colleagues and other Western partners?

Ilya Rogachev: The first week of the general political discussion at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly saw some top-level and high-level events on various aspects of countering terrorism and extremism. I had several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the General Assembly, including formal contacts with Western colleagues, though not with the Americans. We had no prior agreement on that because the US had signalled no interest in such a meeting. A new coordinator for counterterrorism has recently been appointed at the State Department. He may need some time to get settled in the job. In general, in the situation created by Washington any American official would think twice before contacting an official Russian representative. Let us not jump the gun and see how events develop.

Question: Do you believe that the Western delegations with which you had contacts are really committed to interacting with the Russian Federation on counterterrorism?

Ilya Rogachev: Western partners have never lost interest in having contacts with us although they did try to put them on a purely utilitarian platform. Russia was told that it would no longer be business as usual, and that they would talk with us only on the aspects of counterterrorism that interest them, and not the issues we would like to discuss.

Today I think the West’s interest is prompted by objective factors, above all the mounting terrorist threat in Europe. These are the sentiments I sensed were present during the course of the meetings.

Question: Will the creation of a new UN structure, the UN Counter-Terrorism Office, and the appointment of Vladimir Voronkov of Russia as its director have an impact on our country’s participation in UN counter-terror programmes?

Ilya Rogachev: The establishment of the new office headed by a Russian is, among other things, recognition of the active, impartial and balanced Russian policy on counter-terror issues at international venues. The new office has its job cut out. Of course its head and his staff will face challenges. We know that all new things have to fight their way to recognition; this is true of purely bureaucratic matters and substantive issues.

I have to say that from my meetings with my counterparts I became convinced that our foreign partners pin great hopes in this field on the reform of the UN Secretariat. Expectations are very high not least because the first Undersecretary General of the UN on Counter-Terrorism will be a Russian diplomat. This fact has great symbolic significance, of course. However, according to the rules of international civil service he is already an impartial and independent official. Of course we will do what we can to help the new office.

Question: Addressing the General Assembly in the course of the general political debate Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia had prepared a draft universal convention on countering cyber-crime, including hacking. Could you tell us more about the project?

Ilya Rogachev: The draft comprehensive convention on combating information crime was prepared by a working group including representatives of all the Russian agencies concerned several years ago.

We have repeatedly submitted it to our foreign partners, discussed it with BRICS member states plus other close friends and allies the prospects of promoting it in the international arena. The document has already been sent to the capitals of many states through our embassies. Moreover, we held “presentations” of the draft at the Vienna UN office during the events held by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The draft convention has several important components. Firstly, the states are urged to consider more than a dozen new crimes to be introduced in national criminal law. They include crimes of hacking. The first four articles of the convention’s section on criminalisation are devoted to this type of crime.

Besides this, the draft regulates technical assistance, the creation of national institutions in this field, and addresses aspects of international cooperation and the convention implementation mechanism. We propose setting up an independent international organisation though we understand that there may be other ways of solving the task.

Question: When do you think this document might start being promoted at the UN?

Ilya Rogachev: In the current situation it is hard to expect that full-scale work to agree upon the text of the draft will begin anytime soon. At this stage we would like it to become a topic of serious discussion though. Interestingly, the states that are the most vocal critics of Russia accusing it of hacking, unlawful activities in the digital sphere, of attempts to influence the results of elections, etc. come out against our draft. This is highly indicative.

I can only attribute it to hypocrisy. You can judge for yourself: when offered to regulate this sphere they say “no” and withdrawing into a corner, figuratively speaking, continue to sound off about Russia breaking all the rules.

Question: Why do some countries oppose our draft?

Ilya Rogachev: The Council of Europe passed the Budapest Convention against cyber-crime back in 2001. It is of course outdated and fails to address many matters. However, the participating states find it convenient to cooperate among themselves on its basis. We cannot join the convention because its text has some provisions that are unacceptable for us and for other states which cherish their sovereignty.

Question: On September 28, Russia convened a UN Security Council meeting on the interim results of Security Council Resolution 1373, the basic counter-terrorism instrument. Earlier you said that there were certain implementation drawbacks. What are they precisely and how can they be rectified?

Ilya Rogachev: UN Security Council Resolution 1373 is not only a fundamental anti-terrorism instrument but also, I think, one of the most important decisions the Security Council approved in its entire history. The document contains a wide range of instructions that the states must implement to increase their anti-terrorism potential, including to adopt relevant national laws plus introduce the best practices and high standards to different aspects of anti-terrorist security. Although the more obvious gaps were closed over a period of the last 16 years, its level remains very different in various countries.

This concerns, for example, how a national legislation is advanced with regard to different aspects of anti-terrorism, how international commitments are met, primarily under UN anti-terrorism conventions, and to what extent the standards and best practices developed by specialised organisations like ICAO, IMO and others, have been accepted and obeyed. Besides this, there are other Security Council anti-terrorism decisions as well as a number of related international agreements and recommendations that should be joined and implemented.

Of course, no one hopes that the level of anti-terrorist security will be equally high in developed countries with advanced anti-terrorism systems, as, for example, the Russian Federation or Israel, and least developed countries or states that are exposed to the terrorist threat to a lesser extent than others. At the same time, a weak link – a state that has failed to do the full amount of work – will largely devalue its neighbours’ efforts and the international efforts as a whole.

For example, if the financial system in a state is poorly equipped with instruments designed to prevent the funding of terrorism, it is sure to become a conduit for money that will pay for both the preparations and the carrying out of a terrorist attack. At the same time, the efforts by numerous other states that have adopted very complex and time-consuming measures to immunize their financial systems in good time will prove simply useless, at least from the point of view of victims of a terrorist attack. This should not be allowed to happen.

Terrorists know very well about these kinds of circumstances. They are quick to find their bearing and identify loopholes, often moving a step ahead of law enforcers and secret services that always face obstacles in the shape of state borders, limits of national jurisdictions and competences, and other things, too.

We suggest that the UN Security Council hold another discussion on this problem in order to encourage the “laggards” to find additional resources for eliminating the vulnerabilities in their anti-terrorism potential as soon as possible.

Question: How do the Americans meet the requirements of the resolutions?

Ilya Rogachev: It is not for me to provide purely expert evaluations, although, judging by the results, their anti-terrorist system is quite reliable. It is another matter what measures are used to achieve this. For example, the United States, unlike Russia, has a highly favourable geographical location with minimal trans-border threats. On the other hand, the US secret services use a “method” that is banned in our country: they provoke and, I would say, even incite a person to commit a crime and then detain him or her at the final stage. Their arsenal includes other dubious methods as well.

Under Resolution 1373, the UN Security Council has established the Counter-Terrorism Committee authorised to perform monitoring visits to various countries to survey their anti-terrorism efforts. The Committee has various enabling instruments, including country-specific reports following the visits. But, judging by all appearances, the United States is not eager to receive a UN mission of this kind: there were none during an entire period of 16 years. Incidentally, Russia received a Committee delegation back in 2012 and was given high marks.

Question: At the UN Security Council, do our Western partners continue to block Russia’s initiative to impose full trade and economic embargo on ISIS-controlled territories? Why does this happen? How do they explain their stance?

Ilya Rogachev: We raised this issue long before submitting the draft resolution. We also tried to encourage a discussion and the approval of practical measures. To a certain extent, this initiative is losing its relevance, primarily due to military successes achieved by the Syrian government army and the Russian Aerospace Forces. These have resulted in a situation where the ISIS “territorial project” is at the final stages of its existence and ISIS-controlled territories are shrinking.

Regrettably, however, ISIS is managing to survive, although the group is not thriving as it used to two years ago. However, they are still getting considerable funds, including from the outside. Non-compliance with the existing Security Council embargo on arms supplies to the terrorists remains an open question. We know that ISIS used to seize weapons, including from the Iraqi army, and manufactured some types of weapons on their own. A lot of weapons supplied to the “moderate opposition” end up, in some way or other, in the hands of ISIS. Some amounts come from the black market. But it is clear, even using common sense, that all of this is not enough for waging war on several fronts for six years without feeling any shortage of arms and ammunition. Perhaps, it is worth revisiting the issue of weapons supplies to the terrorists.

The fact that our Western colleagues accepted the Russian full embargo initiative in a negative way, barring it under humanitarian pretexts, is dubious and suspicious. The Security Council has repeatedly coped with the task of introducing humanitarian exemptions to protect civilians from sanctions. There is also a precedent: an embargo was imposed with regard to UNITA-controlled territories in the past. But, no, they find some reasons…

Question: But the gradual fiasco of the “territorial project” cannot yet be regarded as a pledge of full victory over ISIS, can it?

Ilya Rogachev: Hopefully the process is moving in that direction. However, the terrorist threat is not disappearing. Rather, it is evolving and new risks are emerging. The so-called foreign terrorist militants, who left their countries to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, are now coming back on the run from a military defeat. In this connection we need relevant international agreements and algorithms, as well as new standards in fighting criminals belonging to this category. A big problem in many countries is the return of jihadists’ families. What should we do with them? These people cross international borders, often without documents. There is a humanitarian aspect involved. Frequently we have to deal with women with many underage children.

Question: In this way, the Syrian-Iraqi bridgehead is no longer of key importance for Al Baghdadi’s followers, is it?

Ilya Rogachev: ISIS is increasingly making itself in the image of Al Qaeda, an organisation with a horizontal governance system and autonomous regional or sub-regional cells. These are practically independent from one another. What keeps them together is more an ideology rather than any physical communication lines, money flows or something else. Of course, they are interconnected in some way or other, but generally ISIS is increasingly becoming a network organisation that is spreading all across the world.

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