Is NATO necessary for Russia?

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Ten years ago, Russia and NATO signed the basic act on mutual relations. Much was done for the development of relations between Moscow and Brussels during this period. However, voices are still heard in Russian society saying: do we need to be friends with NATO? Last time, an active dispute dedicated to this topic took place at the end of May when the Federal Assembly debated the federal bill “On ratification of the agreement between NATO member states and other countries participating in the Partnership for Peace program on the status of their forces of June 19 of 1995 and additional protocol.” The opposition raised a scandal in the Duma about this bill, although it did not hinder its passing: 328 Duma deputies voted “for” and 90 voted “against.” Communists, liberal democrats and members of Motherland faction of Sergei Baburin said that having ratified the agreement, Russia would open its borders for NATO soldiers. However, representatives of the “party of power” supported the document proposed by the Kremlin.

Of course, this voting does not reflect the structure of public opinion in Russia, but the Kremlin needs this agreement badly. Henceforth, not only NATO servicemen will be allowed on the territory of Russia, but also soldiers of the Russian Armed Forces will be able to be present on territories of NATO member states and their partners on quite legal grounds. This was one of the main arguments of the Kremlin during debate of the document in the Duma. This argument was voiced by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who said that ratification of the document would allow for the solving of a number of legal, scientific and technological issues related to use of military contingents of participants of the agreement on the territories of each other.

Grushko said: “More than 70 events subject to this agreement will take place between 2007 and 2008. The majority of them will be organized outside of Russia. The agreement will allow for more active use of the military resources of Russia in the areas that are priorities for us.”

Meanwhile, this somehow does not quite fit the Munich speech of Vladimir Putin and the wish of Russia to withdraw from the Conventional Forces Treaty. Russia is discontent with NATO’s eastward expansion. It is discontent with the participation of NATO in exercises in the Ukraine. Now Moscow wants to allow NATO exercises on its territory. It is impossible to see the logic in this.

In any case, the Kremlin does occasionally listen to public opinion. For example, Russian-American exercises Torgau-2006 were cancelled in the autumn of 2006 according to the initiative of Russia. Now such exercises are unlikely at all because on the eve of the parliamentary and presidential elections, they will increase the protest electorate tremendously. But why is the ratification of the agreement legalizing the status of foreign troops in Russia initiated now?

Of course, there is no need for radicalism in the relations of NATO with Russia but there is also evidently no need “to put up a bold front.” The stance of Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, is interesting in this case. It was he who acted as one of the organizers of signing the basic act on mutual relations between Russia and NATO in 1997 when he was director of the main department of international military cooperation of the Defense Ministry. Now Ivashov became one of the most zealous opponents of the idea of cooperation with NATO. He says that “in circumstances when the West has started a cold war against Russia in all directions, we should announce a moratorium not for separate treaties with NATO but for relations with it in general.” Ivashov believes that such a moratorium should be in effect until the moment “when NATO starts fulfilling all provisions of the basic act of Russia-NATO.”

The Kremlin will hardly agree with such a radical proposal, although it will not abandon its critique of NATO policy, either. In the next two election years, Moscow will evidently keep “sitting on two chairs,” waiting for a more favorable situation for formation and hard defending of its geopolitical interests in relations with NATO countries.

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