Moscow has agreed to a Russia-NATO Council meeting after the alliance’s July 8-9 summit in Warsaw. The decision was announced after French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris on June 29.
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the Russia-NATO Founding Act and the 15th anniversary of the Russia-NATO Council. The Council was created in 2002 as a consultative mechanism. NATO suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia after the Ukrainian crisis broke out in April 2014, although channels for political dialogue and military to military communication remained open. The organization held its first formal meeting with Russia’s envoy to the alliance in almost two years in April, but the talks did little to ease tensions.
France and others have called for another meeting to rebuild trust between the two sides. The Council’s meeting will take place after the Warsaw summit so that Russia would have time to examine the decisions taken there. Mr Ayrault said, France wants the summit to show transparency towards Russia through dialogue. He does not want the meeting to be «confrontational».
This is a clear shift to diplomacy from confrontation.
Actually, the US-led NATO has done a lot to provoke Russia.
Nearly 60,000 soldiers of NATO and partner countries have participated in four series of maneuvers in the Baltic countries, Romania and Poland. The most provocative among these exercises was Anakonda-16 held in June on the territory of Poland. The training event involved around 31,000 troops from 24 countries – the largest exercise Poland has seen since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1991.
Anakonda-16 is complemented by Baltops-16, Saber Strike-16, and Swift Response-16. The increasing tempo of exercises on the Russian border is seen as prelude to a larger permanent presence. No such hostile forces have amassed so close to Russia’s Western borders since the WWII. US ships participating in NATO exercises increasingly often deploy too close to Russia’s borders in the Baltic and Black seas. The incidents at sea have become a frequent occurrence. On June 28, the Russian Defense Ministry made a statement saying a US naval ship had passed too close to one of its vessels in the Mediterranean Sea.
On June 14, NATO’s defense ministers formally approved the plan to deploy four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
The United States will increase its military presence in Eastern Europe by deploying an armored brigade.
According to the fiscal year 2017 European Reassurance Initiative budget proposal, the US military spending in Europe will be more than $3.4 billion – far more than the $786 million in the current budget. The Army will repair and upgrade its already pre-positioned arms and place them at sites in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Those stocks will be sufficient for another armored brigade to fall in on. The rotating brigade will bring its own equipment.
The show of force became a prelude to the upcoming summit in Warsaw, where the European allies will be asked to approve the increasingly hostile and dangerous posture.
Besides, NATO proceeds with its missile defense effort undermining European security. On May 12, a ceremony took place in Deveselu, a US naval support facility in southern Romania, to mark the operational certification (initial operational capability – IOC) of the Aegis Ashore system, which comprises three batteries (24 missiles) of SM-3 Block IB interceptors. On May 13, another phase of the project was launched in Poland (the US missile defense site at Redzikowo near the Baltic Sea).
The wisdom of such policy is questioned.
French journalist Christine Bierre, editor-in-chief of Solidarite & Progres newspaper, said the situation is reminiscent of the Cold War.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused the alliance of «warmongering» against Russia. He spoke out against recent NATO military exercises in Poland and the Baltics, describing them as «sabre-rattling». «The one thing we shouldn’t do now is inflame the situation with loud sabre-rattling and warmongering», the Minister told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
«Anyone who thinks a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is wrong», he added.
Edward Lozansky and Gilbert Doctorow, both well-known US experts on Russia, denounced the demonization of Russia by the media and called for the beginning of a ‘perestroika’ in the USA in an opinion piece published by the Washington Times.
The authors suggested that like the USSR in the mid-1980s, the US today is in desperate need of ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ – transparency and open discussion, in order to abandon a disastrous foreign policy which threatens both US and global survival in the 21st century.
George Kennan, an American diplomat, political scientist, and historian whose writings inspired the Truman Doctrine and the US foreign policy of «containing» the Soviet Union, warned in 1996 that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territory would be a «strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions».
There will be many issues on the NATO summit agenda, all related to security – something unachievable without Moscow. Other issues pale in significance in comparison with this one. Russia is the country that can significantly contribute to the solution of NATO’s problems or gravely exacerbate them. No longer a common threat unites the alliance. There is unease about the role of the US as the unofficial leader claiming the right to deliver pre-emptive strikes and circumvent the UN. In 2003 it attacked Iraq against the will of many other NATO members, such as Germany and France, for instance. US military planners simply added the alliance’s potential to the one of the US in the scenario planning. They can do it again, despite the absence of uniformity of views within the bloc.
There is simultaneously a desire within the European Union, reflected in a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), to have the European own military seconded to a wholly European command and subject only to European political control.
This is a trend to reckon with. It has great influence on NATO planning. No matter what, US military presence in Europe will never reach the same levels as during the Cold War. As a consequence, European Union leaders must be prepared to do more for Europe’s common security, especially in terms of political dialogue with all neighboring countries, such as Russia.
Today NATO clearly lack the reason d’etre that once united it in the aftermath of the Second World War.
It has struggled to find agreement among its members on the roles it has defined for itself. The operations the alliance has conducted in recent years have been of extremely controversial character, such as the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. In Afghanistan the mission hit snags on the way as there was evident lack of willingness to share the burden of the fighting. The campaign in Libya ended up in failure. At the same time NATO did its best to keep Russia away from any participation in decision making process in the spheres both sides agreed to cooperate on equal terms.
Whatever divides Russia and NATO, the tensions are too high. The situation is slipping out of control. The revival of dialogue through the Russia-NATO Council is the opportunity to grasp. Russia does not evade a dialogue with NATO. «No one is shying away. Dialogue is very important. Again, we would like to emphasize that Russia was not the one in favor of freezing dialogue with NATO», said Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov.
According to Peskov, «The dialogue, despite all the existing disagreements, is necessary, as there is no alternative to it».
Obviously Russia and NATO have plenty of possibilities for cooperation, including the situation in Afghanistan, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, countering piracy, cooperation in the Arctic, combating terrorism to name a few.
NATO nations must open up firm lines of communication with Russia in order to avoid further escalation of tensions in Europe, said Philip Breedlove, former head of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
There is no time to waste, emphasized the retired General. «Frankly, I think we need to go there», Breedlove said. «I think we need to begin to have meaningful dialogue, and the question is, is that dialogue possible by our government or is that some sort of track-2-on-steroids that begins those conversations. I don’t know».
Breedlove’s comments echo those of former US defense secretary Chuck Hagel, who in May told reporters that the next president needs to sit down with Russian leader Vladimir Putin for face-to-face conversations.
Indeed, this is the time when the NATO’s policy toward Russia needs to be adapted to reality and seek a dialogue, at least to avoid unwanted incidents and provocations. A look back at history shows diplomacy has a good track record. It worked well even at the height of the Cold War. It is high time to reactivate the negotiating track. The expected meeting of Russia-NATO Council provides the opportunity. It would be folly to miss it.