RUSSIA-NATO: ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

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During its recent meeting the joint permanent council Russia-NATO at the level of defense ministers made decisions that seem to be important at first glance. First, Russian Defense Minister Igor Ivanov and General Secretary of NATO George Robertson exchanged documents on opening of a military liaison mission of NATO in Moscow. Second, members of the council decided to form a new level of relations in the format of “twenty” by May 2002. According to Ivanov, the topics that may be discussed in this format include combating of terrorism, problem of mass destruction weapons non-proliferation, peacekeeping, prevention of crises, including the civil ones, as well as the European antimissile defense. According to the Russian party, discussion of these issues should be done on equal terms, which implies the right of veto for Russia.

Third, Ivanov announced that in the format of “twenty” Russia was preparing to discuss only political issues. According to Colonel General Yury Baluevsky, Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Moscow is not interested in clause 5 of NATO bylaws (on making of decisions regarding participation in joint combat operations) and the issues dealing with strategic nuclear planning. Russia is still averse to NATO eastward expansion and does not see any need for the alliance as a military organization. Meanwhile, NATO does not ask Russia’s permission for its actions yet. Time will show if the situation will change in this respect after May 2002. So far the final communique of NATO at the level of defense ministers states that NATO retains a prerogative of independent actions and decisions in the format of “nineteen” with regard to all issues related to its obligations and responsibility. Defense ministers of NATO member states also confirm that a new cycle of the alliance expansion will begin during the NATO summit in Prague in November 2002 and called on the nine candidate countries to accelerate preparation for entrance in the alliance.

All this means that the alliance and Russia see a possibility of further cooperation in different ways. The final communique of the NATO council confirms this difference. Given such approach Russia will hardly receive the right of veto during discussion of issues in the format of “twenty.” Then there is a question: what is the difference of “twenty” from the format of “nineteen plus one?”

The West and the US are cautious towards the Russian initiatives yet. Meanwhile, Moscow understands that, as Vladimir Putin puts this, “the ship of alienation” is moving in a certain direction but has inertia of motion, and it is very difficult to turn it into an opposite direction. Hence, says the Russian President, “It is necessary to keep patient and to act accurately and professionally.”

Although changing in the character of relations, which, according to Putin, is now observed between Russia and the West, “is not legalized as we would like it, this process itself already creates preconditions for development of the situation of this kind in the world and for Russia, as well as for its economy.” In his recent interview for Financial Times the Russian President especially emphasizes that pursuing such policy Moscow does not expect any concessions and does not ask for something. “We simply attract attention of our partners to the fact that it is beneficial for them to treat Russia as an equal partner. The sooner our partners understand this and act in accordance with such logic, the better for all, both for us and our partners,” announced President Putin. Putin stresses that pursuing such policy Russia has never sacrificed its national interests, and its stance regarding non-termination of the ABM treaty confirms this. “Such weighed position of defending of national interests on the one hand, and intention to establish good neighborly relations with our partners on the other hand, enjoys support of Russia’s population,” adds Putin.

Meanwhile, Russia does not have fully confident relations with NATO, US and the West yet. NATO will expand eastward, its member states are strengthening their positions in Central Asia and are ousting Russia from there. The US quits the ABM Treaty. Of course, Putin sees all this, but can do nothing. A weak semi-destroyed economy, impossibility to conduct efficient conversion, and this circumstance weakens position of Moscow. The Kremlin is seeking benefits even in this difficult situation. The most important thing is that Russia persuaded the US of the need for a further reduction of strategic offensive arms and joint control over this process. However, will the START-3 treaty be signed if the START-2 treaty did not come into effect yet? At any rate, it is already evident that intention of nuclear powers to reduce their armaments is a positive trend. The nuclear potential of Russia and the US will be lowered to the level of 1,500-1,700 warheads. Along with this, according to the Russian Defense Minister, investments in the military industrial complex will be small. He says that “there is no sense in wasting money on armament races.” According to him, “the system of national antimissile defense is a myth.” The Russian response measures to a possible withdrawal from the ABM Treaty by the US will not cost much because all intercontinental ballistic missiles in service with Russian Armed Forces can penetrate air defense systems of any country.

Thus, relations between Russia and its Western partners are gradually changing. Establishment of these relations has just started. The international community welcomes the positive trends of striving of Moscow for foreign contacts and demilitarization of the foreign political course of the Kremlin.

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