In Moscow and Brussels on May 13, the military and diplomats held scheduled meetings within the framework of the session of the Russia-NATO Council. It should be noted that NATO Secretary-General George Robertson arrived in Moscow to attend such a meeting for the first time. In Moscow the Russia-NATO meeting was held at the levels of member nations’ ambassadors accredited in Russia. So, NATO did not spend too much money on organizing the meeting. George Robertson said that this was a “symbolic” meeting. Some results of Russia and NATO’s activities within the framework of the Twenty were finalized in Moscow. In addition, diplomats discussed issues connected with the June meeting of the Council, which will be held in Madrid.
What has the Twenty achieved during a year of its existence? What are the results of the Russia-NATO Council’s efforts? When answering these questions in an interview with the Interfax agency, George Robertson stated that “the Council’s achievements are very substantial. These are coordinated evaluations of various aspects of terrorist threats in the Euro-Atlantic region; an agreement on political conditions of forms of prospective peacekeeping operations organized by Russia and NATO; important moves ahead in cooperation in creating a theatre anti-missile defense system; the initiative connected with the security of the border in the Balkans; a framework agreement between Russia and NATO on search-and-rescue operations at sea; the initiative on closer cooperation in controlling civil and military flights. In addition, the members of the Council will be able to share opinions regarding topical security issues, including the situation in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
There are many scheduled events and agreements. However, it should be noted that they exist only on paper. The above points of cooperation between Moscow and the alliance do no go beyond declarations and agreements. Actual joint activities – such cooperation in the Balkans – are being wound up. A theatre anti-missile defense system has not been crated; NATO and Russia do not conduct joint search-and-rescue exercise at sea or cooperate in controlling military flights.
George Robertson met with the Russian leadership in Moscow and commented on NATO’s successes. At the same time, general who met in Brussels discussed quite different things.
General of the Army Anatoly Kvashnin, Russian Chief of the General Staff, attended the meeting of the chiefs of General and Central Staffs of NATO member nations in Brussels on May 13. The Russian Defense Ministry stated that the main topic of the dialogue concerned European security and the schedule of the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Balkans. As is known, the latter decision was a surprise for NATO’s leadership.
The Russian Defense Ministry says that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kosovo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina goes at full speed. However, Russia and NATO had to discuss many issues.
Firstly, other international contingents must take sectors controlled by Russian peacekeepers by August 1 (the deadline of the withdrawal of Russian servicemen). Secondly, Russia will have to pass over a strategic airdrome in Slatina with the entire infrastructure and control posts to NATO’s command. As is known, Russian paratroopers seized this airdrome in 1999, and Moscow controlled the only airbase in Kosovo. Russia is now leaving this base. In addition, Russia withdraws a big military hospital.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov stated in Sweden on May 5 that Russia made this decision because the situation in Bosnia and Kosovo improved, and the operation “will soon enter a police phase”. Before General of the Army Anatoly Kvashnin stated that the maintenance of the peacekeeping contingent in the Balkans is too expensive for Russia (according to him, Russia spent $29.6 million a year).
NATO’s leaders share Moscow’s opinion regarding the cost of the peacekeeping operation in the Balkans. However, their views on the situation in this region are somewhat different. NATO Secretary-General George Robertson stated that he does not think that international contingents have fulfilled their mission in the Balkans. He said: “We think that international military presence is an important security factor for the region.”
It should be noted that NATO’s officials made stricter statements regarding Russia’s decision. For instance, Pierre Lelush, deputy secretary of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, stated that “the Russian leadership’s arguments regarding the necessity of withdrawing peacekeepers from Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Kosovo did not convince him”. He noted: “Russia has decided to demonstrate its isolation from this process by withdrawing its troops.”
In other words, Moscow is winding up actual military cooperation with the alliance in the Balkans, which was established within the framework of the Russia-NATO Council. The Russian Defense Ministry stated that in addition to the Balkan problems Kvashnin and his NATO counterparts discussed issues connected with exchanging information, combating terrorism, proliferation weapons of mass destruction, regional instability, and more. It is not ruled out that they also discussed the prospects of deploying international contingents in Iraq under the aegis of the UN. Rumors are circulating that the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Balkans is connected with their possible mission in the Persian Gulf.