Interview article

Capt(N) Victor Nikitin

Russia's Military Cooperation
 |  Jul 15, 2007

Each year, alternating between Moscow and Ottawa, military staff talks focus on issues of bilateral relations. Becoming commonplace, yearly visits of senior Russian officers (including generals who come to learn English and French on military bases) are aimed at fostering understanding and trust between the two nations. Building military relations are important to the exchange of information, especially now with many questions about Afghanistan.

Captain (Navy) Victor Nikitin, the Russian Federations’ Defence Attaché to Canada, explains that the Russian government’s position on Afghanistan is to do everything possible to help Canada in its mission. “We have intelligence information about the situation in Afghanistan,” he says.

The staff talks were held in Ottawa last year, and the delegation was headed by the General of the General Staff, who had participated in the Afghan war. The General, along with fellow officers, discussed past experiences in Afghanistan with their Canadian counterparts.

With more than 100,000 military in Afghanistan during the war, Russia’s deployment wasn’t quite enough. “Practically, we had not only cities, but entire regions under control. Now NATO has only some cities under control – that’s all – this is a war without end,” Capt(N) Nikitin says. “The use of tanks is necessary in Afghanistan – armed carriers aren’t all that useful where there are no roads. Currently there are 42 tanks from Canada over there which were delivered from Canada by Russian Antonov 124s, and then by the C17 to Kandahar.”

Russia is interested in becoming a supplier to the CF, states Capt(N) Nikitin. “Now, for the first time in 15 years, Russian military exporters will have everything new, more sophisticated, so it’s time we try to participate in some tenders. We participated in the tender for the heavy lift aircraft. I’m sorry we lost out. I was sure that we were not going to win, but we participated to show that we are ready.”

In Ottawa last May, speaking on the topic of Canada’s military aircraft needs, Deputy Director General Vladimir A. Belyakov, of the Rosoboronexport delegation, stated that “with this money it was possible to buy 16 of the Ilyusions IL-76, with delivery in only a few months.”

Capt(N) Nikitin sees Canada’s need for helicopters as a crucial requirement in the Afghan war. “Without helicopters, it’s not possible, not only transport helicopters, but attack helicopters as well. We are ready to sell the MI17, the best helicopter for the armed areas, and the MI26 for heavy lift, the largest helicopter in the world.”

With the heightened importance of search and rescue operations, Russia prepared a draft agreement between Canada, the United States, Russia, and Japan. “For 3 years I have tried to settle this problem,” says Nikitin. “Two years ago, the chief of our federal service of search and rescue, General Popov, was here to sign. However, the agreement was stalled as the Americans would like to have the Sea Search and Rescue included in this agreement. For us, it’s not so easy. In this case we should have our ships all the time here in Canada, near the Canadian Pacific and Atlantic, this is a big problem for the Americans. ”

With the Open Skies agreement going forward, flights from Southeast Asia have increased through the North, resulting in an expanded requirement for search and rescue capabilities. “We have an agreement to use the territory of Canada in situ­ations when it will be necessary to land our aircraft here in an emergency ­situation,” says Captain Nikitin in his push for SAR cooperation.

Veterans are an important part of the Russia/Canada cooperation piece. Medals have been given to Canadian war veterans of the World War II. “Every year I visit some cities to present medals of such things. Now, for example, by my minister of defense presented one of your pilots, Major John Goodyear, who participated in search and rescue operations, with a ‘strengthening of brotherhood in arms’ medal for saving the life of one of our sailors while participating in the Kasavac exercises,” explains Captain Nikitin. “I would like, for example, to organize the visit of our ships to the bases in Canada and vice versa, this is real military diplomacy.”

As he looks to sign an agreement between both countries for military and technological cooperation, Captain Nikitin describes the current situation: “Everything was prepared, and now a draft of this agreement is circulating through the ­ministry of defense, and through the ministry of foreign affairs of Canada. We are ready to sign this agreement.”

As Russia strives to have good stable relations with the U.S. as well, they understand the delicate nature of the mission forward as Russia emerges from the poor, pre-Cold War days, to it’s present-day economy as a global military exporter and how that may undermine ongoing relations. “We understand very well. Our government understands, our president understands. The U.S. is a great country, very large country, with very powerful government and armed forces. This is the leader in the world; it goes without saying, so we try to have good relations,” states Captain Nikitin.

Relations have cooled, however, with the ongoing Iraq war, not to mention problems within the former Russian republic of Georgia, or the continuation to expand NATO’s reach to their border. “We don’t like it. We don’t like to have Poland or some other countries, adopting parts of the anti-missile system, we don’t like it, it’s too close,” explains Captain Nikitin. “Our Minister of Foreign Affairs does everything possible not to have serious interventions. It’s not good for us. But sometimes here it’s impossible, especially now, we have great problems with Georgia. They have the support from the U.S., their armed forces are trained with the assistance of the U.S.”

Captain Nikitin explains how Georgia’s Minister of Defense stated that “Russia is not ready for the war, so we are going to settle the problem of two republics, by the military way, against Russia. Georgia is ready.” He goes on to say that Russia has done everything possible to change the situation to avoid any military conflict with Georgia, but is quick to emphasize Russia’s concern over illegal casinos being run in Russia by the Georgian mafia. These illegal enterprises, which Russia is continually trying to oust, are filtering “2 billion plus dollars yearly back to Georgia.”

While Russia supplies the bulk of the gas and electricity to Georgia, any disruption in these services would only hurt the people of Georgia, an act Captain Nikitin feels his government has no intention of going forward with.

With Russian companies expanding at a rapid pace, especially in the areas of oil and gas, Russian export and development is growing exponentially as well. American companies, like Pratt & Whitney among others, are finding a growing market for their products and technology in Russia. However, the same cannot be said for Russian companies vying to penetrate into the lucrative U.S. market – only a small number have been successful. Russia feels Canada will open doors to the U.S. marketplace.

With recent interest in developing western markets, Rosoboron­export, a state-owned Russian company, has signed an agreement with Canada’s Strategic Defence Solutions Inc., to act as their official representative in Canada. “It’s a first step. Maybe some other companies would like to work with us, too,” states Capt(N) Nikitin.

Russia’s attempts of expanding a presence into North American markets has been trying at times, with Canada’s system of procurement and offsets becoming a major hurdle to understand and overcome. “Canada is totally new for us. Only to understand your system of procurement – it’s not so easy, this system of offsets at 100%. For American companies it’s much easier as they can redirect business from plants in the U.S. to Canadian plants,” he says. With this system of procurement in place, Rosoboronexport may see a future need to develop and open a facility in Canada.

As Russia’s economic expansion to the west moves forward at a slow pace, the same can’t be said for other parts of the world. Their long-standing relationship with Iran has been a positive one with continued economic, transportation and military sales escalating yearly.

On the topic of Russia’s continuing ties with Iran, Nikitin explains “we’ve invested a lot into the economy of Iran, building a lot of factories, transportation infrastructure, and the like. Now we are working on the building of a nuclear station, for commercial purposes, not military, for the civilians. So we are interested in this project. It’s big money. They have oil, gas, everything to move forward. They’re a very, very tough, people. The Iranian people are very religious from one side, and from the other side they are ready for any kind of conflict – so we try to calm the situation.”

Russia’s help in the construction of a nuclear facility in Iran has caused concern to a lot of governments, the world over. The U.S. has voiced, on several occasions, its growing concern over the end use of the facility. Captain Nikitin explains how the Russian government is doing everything possible to ensure that the installation will not be used for military purposes, “We are ready to receive, in our country, the uranium for enrichment for Iran, and all of the processing will be done in my country. They will receive the nuclear materials after they are processed.”

In other parts of the world, Russia’s continuing export development is nowhere more prevalent than in China, where their good relations has created a front row seat to one of the most booming markets in history. With inexpensive automobiles made in China expected shortly to emerge on the markets, Russia can expect to receive the lion’s share of not only its ongoing military sales, but goods and services required for China’s ever expanding economic growth. “We have good relations here, we have very good relations with the defense attaché of China, and our Ambassador has very good relations with Ambassador of China. Sometimes we meet to discuss some problems. It’s very interesting because they have their own point of view, it’s necessary for us to know, because China is China,” states Captain Nikitin.

North Korea, a long standing ally of Russia has brought about world attention with their recent nuclear tests. Acting as a mediator in this situation, Russia is trying hard to diffuse the escalation between North Korea and the U.S. “Our relations with North Korea are very good now because our president had some meetings, discussions, all the problems, now we are ready to continue negotiations with the US, some other countries, on the problem of North Korea. But, our position is not to have more countries with nuclear missiles, but what to do? Every country has the right. It was their right to test. You can read in the newspapers about the nuclear arms in Israel. Silence, but they have them,” explains Captain Nikitin of the ongoing situation in North Korea. “They have spent a lot of money on such work. I feel the U.S. is a little bit afraid because now they have good relations with South Korea having American troops stationed there. North Korea’s army is the same as the Russian, more than 1 million people. So they have to spend a lot of money for such armed forces, but they always have problems from the south. But, speaking with the people from South Korea and North Korea, they would like to reunite.”

With turmoil in several regions of the world, the U.S. situation in Iraq is front and center with more and more U.S. soldiers losing their lives in an ongoing war on terror. Stability in Iraq seems to be a long way off as new factions struggle for territorial control. “To destroy is so easy, but to build stability is very difficult at the best of times. They will, it goes without saying that very soon Americans are going out of Iraq,” explains Captain Nikitin as he sees a country left in turmoil and instability. “The execution of Saddam will become a great mistake, because in Iraq we see civil war, but with the execution of Saddam, this civil war will escalate, very, very quickly. In 2 years the U.S. will leave the country. It will be necessary to find the leader who can reunite all the Sunni’s, Shiites, Kurds, all the factions. You’re asking somebody to lead with an iron fist, diplomatically, its two entirely different things.”

As time goes on Captain Nikitin hopes his presence here in Canada will be of a positive nature putting to rest any disruptions or disagreements between Russia and Canada. His continuing efforts to bring together Russian businesses and the west will remain his focus for the time he remains. With so much turmoil and distrust in the world, he has a long road ahead of him.
William Masek is a consultant based in the Ottawa area.
© FrontLine Defence 2007