Q&A: ALEXEI ALEXEIEVICH RODIONOV

An ambassador for `glasnost'

June 1 1987
Q&A: ALEXEI ALEXEIEVICH RODIONOV

An ambassador for `glasnost'

June 1 1987

An ambassador for `glasnost'

Q&A: ALEXEI ALEXEIEVICH RODIONOV

Alexei Alexeievich Rodionov, 65, is a 23year veteran of the Soviet Union’s diplomatic corps. An economist educated at the U.S.S.R. Finance and Economics Institute, he has served as Soviet ambassador to Burma, Pakistan and Turkey. Since November, 1983, he has been the Soviet Union ’s ambassador to Canada, a country that Soviet officials have referred to as their neighbor to the north. Maclean’s Montreal Bureau Chief Anthony Wilson-Smith recently spoke to Rodionov in Ottawa about Soviet-Canadian relations, the changes now taking place in the Soviet Union under General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev ’s new policy of glasnost—openness—and international issues such as the need for nuclear disarmament.

Maclean’s: How do you define the Soviet Union’s attitude toward Canada? Rodionov: We attach great importance to it. Our attitude to relations with Canada has been and is consistent and principled. It takes into account our comprehensive mutual interests and the continuing dialogue we long ago established. And it is a pleasure to say we continue to make some important steps forward in relations between our two countries. I would refer you, for one thing, to the 1983 visit of then-secretary of the central committee Mikhail Gorbachev to Canada. He remembers that trip with great pleasure, and now bears some sense of familiarity with this country. It is very important that we have such visits. In the same sense, Canadian External Affairs Minister Joe Clark saw with his own eyes the reality of Soviet life when he visited Moscow in 1985. Maclean’s: What do you hope will come of the expected visit to the Soviet Union by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney? Rodionov: We plan to further extend our dialogue with Canada, and part of this includes the visit of Mr. Mulroney in the near future. These visits are good because they continue political dialogue. As well, when they talk privately, the talks are even more productive. You must realize that we recognize the fact that we have different societies, but we can be allies. We talk not about divisions but about ways we can become closer.

Maclean’s: What are some of those ways?

Rodionov: There are many. Your country’s stand on the United States’ Strategic Defence Initiative, for one. We also talk about nuclear disarmament. Your country’s positions on the situations in South Africa and Central America are

areas where we find much to agree on. Maclean’s: What is the Soviet position on terrorism?

Rodionov: The Soviet Union is clearly against international terrorism. We are committed to work with any country against that.

Maclean’s: But what about your links with the Palestine Liberation Organization and especially Sy ria—which is said to sponsor terrorist groups?

Rodionov: We have good relations with all countries, although we obviously would like to have better relations with the United States. We are working hard to fulfil this aim.

Maclean’s: How do you define the difference between acts of national liberation and terrorism?

Rodionov: These are different things. We have different attitudes toward each of them. We always express our attitudes as individual cases arise. For example, we strongly condemn the United States action in Libya. This was an act of state terrorism. But please, I would like to comment further on Soviet-Canada relations. We have good dialogue

and economic dealings. Our bilateral trade is about $1.5 billion annually. Unfortunately, one thing is wrong: our exports. We buy lots of grain, but we do not export much to you. We are hoping to correct this through more dealings by businessmen in both countries. The basic characteristic of our trade with Canada now is its imbalance. Bilateral trade in the first quarter of this year was about $60 million, but our exports were

only 5.7 million rubles [$1.2 million]. This must improve, and there are areas where we have items that are of interest to Canadians. One example is Belarus Equipment—a joint Canadian-Soviet company. It builds excellent tractors, equipment that would be of great use to your farmers. After all, areas like Saskatchewan have conditions much like those in parts of the Soviet Union. So why do you now buy only 400 tractors from us? They are good tractors. We make them well. We offer full service. But with this as an example, we must now look at more mixed enterprises. Maclean’s: How would you describe the political process that is going on in the Soviet Union right now? Rodionov: The Soviet Union has begun a new stage of development, with a restructuring of our system. The ultimate goal is to overcome the stagnation process that exists in some areas in order to realize our full creative potential. This means big changes in our life and the life of our country, but very positive changes. The process is tied quite closely with our foreign policy.

Maclean’s: What of the much-talked about policy of glasnost—openness? Rodionov: Sometimes the western press likes to presume things that are not necessarily accurate. It should be real-

ized this is not a concession to outside pressures or a move to western-style democracy. This is, rather, a natural process, not some sort of device to receive somebody’s approval.

Maclean’s: Will we see any change in the economic system?

Rodionov: I remember important periods of development in the past, such as in agriculture. This is like a new revolution. This is the introduction of true self-government principles. We are raising wages and ending unjustified restrictions on individual initiative. The most crucial area, however, is a change in the system of electing heads of shops and enterprises. Our reforms are aimed at giving the workers a sense of being the true masters of their plants. And now that we are electing the heads, we have very good results. But let us move on to the most crucial area of all.

Maclean’s: What do you regard that to be? Rodionov: War and peace. This is the most acute problem facing mankind.

The Second World War was supposed to be the final war to end wars. But now there is sometimes the threat of a new war. If one breaks out, it would be a new world war. There are now about 60,000 rockets threatening the survival of humanity. There are 10 new warheads built every day. To use only a few of these would result in the instant death of hundreds of millions of people. I must stress that we believe that disease, suffering and economic disaster cannot be justified by any ideological differences. There is only one way for humanity to survive. That is the elimination of nuclear warheads.

Maclean’s: In your view, how can that be accomplished?

Rodionov: We must start by eliminating nuclear weapons in outer space. Mr. Gorbachev often says we need new thinking, a new form of interdependency between countries. It is necessary to move toward the cessation of nuclear testing. From August, 1985, until now, the Soviet Union has monitored nuclear testing by the United States four times. Now we want to begin discussions to bring this to an end. I must stress that control over testing and disarmament is not a problem as far as we are concerned. We must consider the importance of our peaceful intentions expressed by Mr. Gorbachev in a policy statement on Jan. 15,1986, and we consider it realistic. We consider the Reykjavik meeting last October to have been a highly important step, a major point, in our relations with the United States. Unfortunately, the other side was unprepared for our initiative. The main direction of our policy for coming years is disarmament. The time is now.