Russia-NATO Council Meeting: Differences Unbridged

Russia-NATO Council Meeting: Differences Unbridged

NATO and Russia failed to overcome their differences at the meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on July 13. It was the second gathering of the forum since the Alliance suspended its cooperation with Moscow in 2014.

The parties did not agree on the crisis in Ukraine, military transparency and the security situation in Afghanistan.

The talks came after the Warsaw NATO summit held on July 8-9 decided to send 4,000 British, Canadian, French, German, Italian and US soldiers to the Baltic States and Poland – a step viewed as a provocation by Moscow. 

Despite the fact that no progress was achieved on fundamental issues, not all was doom and gloom at the Council’s meeting.  

Russia put forward an important initiative to reduce the risk of incidents during military activities, including exercises – a burning issue to negatively affect the relationship recently. It went ahead with a proposal for NATO and Russian jets to use transponders to clearly identify their planes, a measure currently used only in certain cases. The transponders plan was raised by Russian President Putin during a visit to Finland this month. Transponders are electronic devices that identify aircraft and their flight paths to civilian or military radar stations in order to avoid collisions. The proposal comes after a series of close calls in the Baltic Sea. Alexander Grushko, Russia’s NATO ambassador, said, Moscow was ready to hold «detailed consultations at the military level» on the issue. Allied officials welcomed the Russian proposal that will launch military-to-military talks – an important step to ease the existing tensions. This process can encompass other areas.  

There was no progress on other issues largely due to the lack of positive thinking in regard to how Russia was shown in the final communique of the Warsaw summit. An increased military presence on Russia’s borders, as well as other points of discord, prevents the parties from finding common ground.

The Warsaw event became yet another summit adhering to traditional approaches without a vision for the future.

Actually, the Russia-NATO relationship has seen better days. For instance, there were talks on creating a common anti-missile European defense system to protect Europe from common threats. The issue was on the agenda of the NATO 2010 Lisbon summit. The plans were shelved in favor of the US-led ballistic missile defense (BMD) which excluded Moscow. The NATO BMD plans continue to be implemented even after the deal on Iran’s nuclear program was reached to do away with the threat to justify the deployment.

Russia and NATO cooperated in Afghanistan. There was also a NATO transit center near Ulyanovsk in Russia, and a program of common training for the prevention of the drug trade in Central Asia. The Russian and NATO navies fought together piracy in international waters. The parties used to find a common language in many instances related to non-proliferation. The cooperative projects the two sides launched included cooperation to fight drug trafficking, terrorism, and joint search-and-rescue efforts at sea. The two sides successfully cooperated in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo before NATO launched a bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999.

More significantly, both sides appeared to share a similar vision for post-Cold War Europe. Russia and the Alliance signed a Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security in 1997 that included the promise to refrain from threats or use of force «against each other as well as against any other state, its sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence in any manner inconsistent with the United Nations Charter».

It’s important that the document mentions the United Nations. Indeed, European security should be viewed in a broader context. NATO (as well as the EU) is not the same thing as Europe. The European security should not depend on the state of relations between Russia and NATO (of Russia and the EU) only. It’s a wider notion. It’s worth to note that the North Atlantic Alliance was not even mentioned in the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of 1990 – the fundamental document for European security.

The EU is also barely mentioned in the document.

In 2008 Russia released a draft of a proposal for a new European security treaty (EST) to replace outdated institutions such as NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

It offered to revise the entire European security architecture. The Alliance swept the document under the rug. Today NATO offers to beef up its military posture without addressing the root of the problem. This approach leads to nothing else but confrontation. NATO says it does not trust Russia as a partner. Can NATO be trusted after Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Georgia, the expansion of the Alliance, the implementation of missile defense plans and provocative military activities in the proximity of Russia’s borders among other things? Sanctions and increased military presence do not promote trust.

With all this in mind, Russia-NATO Council remains to be a venue for dialogue. It keeps the lines for communication open.  

Even as the relations between Russia and NATO remain tense, there are grounds to believe there may be light at the end of the tunnel. For instance, US State Secretary John Kerry visited Moscow on July14-15 to discuss a new US-Russian agreement that will cover intelligence sharing and data targeting in Syria. All of NATO’s 28 members are individually part of the US-led coalition that has been conducting air raids in Syria since 2014. No major security problem can be solved without Russia. Syria is a good example to confirm this fact. If Russia and NATO can cooperate in Syria, they can do it elsewhere while putting the differences aside. The cooperation in Syria may spread of other areas to improve the bilateral relationship and enhance European security.

Tags: NATO  Russia