This week Moscow once again proved its flexibility in regard to military-political contacts with European countries and NATO. Defense Minister Sergeev’s visit to Brussels and London has shown that Russia has resumed normal relations with NATO by especially accenting closer relations with the UK.

December 5-6 Igor Sergeev conducted a number of bilateral meetings, including negotiations with his American counterpart William Cohen, and took part in the meetings of the joint permanent Russia-NATO Council and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. He also visited London, and negotiated with his British counterpart Geoffrey Hoon about ABM defense, strategic offensive arms, and global and regional security. Bilateral relations in the military-political field were a special topic in the London negotiations.

Many politicians in the UK support the leading role of the US in protecting security in Europe, and are still indifferent to the idea of organizing mobile forces of the European Union by 2003. On the one hand, European military integration is beneficial for Russia, since it opposes US dominance and allows Russia to be an equal member of the integration. On the other hand, bearing in mind NATO’s leading role on the continent, Russia also may not neglect the alliance. Thus, the logic of Sergeev’s actions during his foreign tour is obvious.

As was said in the statement after the meeting of the joint permanent Russia-NATO council held in Brussels December 5, Russian and NATO defense ministers have reaffirmed their decision to built strong and stable partnership relations aimed at strengthening stability in the Euro-Atlantic region.

The ministers discussed the situation in Yugoslavia and confirmed their resolution to closely cooperate for the sake of peace, stability, and prosperity of the Balkan region. They agreed to observe strictly resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council and the Dayton agreements. NATO and Russia also coordinated the working program of maritime search and rescue missions, exchanged opinions and information about reforms underway in their respective armed forces, and discussed a non-strategic ABM defense system. The ministers also decided to continue consultations about opening a NATO military liaison mission in Moscow. During the press conference NATO Secretary General George Robertson announced that the mission would be opened next year after the alliances opens an information office at the beginning of the year.

According to Robertson, the meeting went on “in a perfectly constructive atmosphere.” He added that cooperation between Russia and NATO had acquired the character of a normal exchange.

Meanwhile, positive results of negotiations between NATO and Russia did not obscure the problems in their relations. What are these problems?

First, Russia and NATO stick to different standpoints about nuclear arms reduction. In reference to prospects of strategic arms reduction, Sergeev emphasized that Russia was ready to reduce its nuclear inventory to less than 1,500 warheads. The US has not yet responded seriously to this initiative yet. Furthermore, it is evident that other countries possessing nuclear weapons will have to joint the process of strategic offensive arms reduction. However the stance of NATO countries (Germany and Italy) who have permitted deployment of American tactical nuclear arms on their territories is also not clear.

So far Russia has not proposed negotiating about tactical nuclear arms. However, according to Russian top ranking military officers-turned-politicians, the tactical nuclear arms deployed in European countries are strategic for Russia, since they can be used against a substantial part of the country’s territory in a few minutes.

Second, Europe is very restrained about the idea of organizing a united non-strategic ABM defense system with Russia and other countries. At present it is difficult to name a rogue state that could deliver a missile blow at any European country (with the probable exception of Libya), since this would require significant financial and material resources. That is why Europeans have done no more than talk.

Meanwhile, NATO countries are indifferent about America’s intention to breach the ABM treaty. “Russia’s standpoint on the ABM treaty is clear. Breaching the treaty means destroying the corner stone of strategic stability in the world,” announced Sergeev after the meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels. However Russia did not garner much support of its position from NATO.

Third, Russia is very concerned about NATO eastward expansion. According to Sergeev, Russia respects the right of any state to protect its national security, but Russian authorities will check the consequences of NATO expansion for Russia’s national interests. Sergeev stressed that Russia “reserves the right to make corresponding conclusions and take relevant steps for the sake of its own security.” What are these possible conclusions and steps?

Russian politicians and military officials have frequently announced unofficially that in response to NATO eastward expansion Russia might decide to withdraw from the conventional arms treaties in Europe, to deploy tactical nuclear missiles in Belarus, and to take some other measures to protect Russian security.

Fourth, there is no understanding between Moscow and NATO about how to resolve the Kosovo conflict. NATO member states are also not unanimous about this issue. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, after Vojislav Kostunica’s victory during the Serbian presidential elections, disputes about the future of Kosovo and Yugoslavia’s other autonomous republics have become more agitated. Officially the OSCE has proposed three stages for solving the problem: 1) the return of refugees and provision of their security by KFOR and UN, 2) organization of a democratic government in Kosovo (five and more years); 3) signing an agreement on the status of Kosovo.

However, during his visit to the informal summit of Balkan leaders in Skopje in late September, permanent US envoy to the UN Richard Holbrook hinted that Washington was inclined to support Kosovo Albanians in their demand for independence.

As a step in this direction Holbrook advocated organizing elections to the new Kosovo parliament in spring 2001. The UK, Czech Republic, and Greece have already severely criticized this proposal.

During the meeting of the Russia-NATO commission Sergeev explained his attitude to problems of the Kosovo conflict. According to him, Moscow is against Kosovo separating from Yugoslavia. The Russian delegation insisted on strictly observing resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council on Kosovo and the military-technical agreement, including the part regarding the return of Serb refugees and Yugoslav Armed Forces and security agencies to Kosovo. Sergeev has proposed signing an agreement between KFOR and Yugoslavia on the status of the peacekeeping contingents in Kosovo. He added that it was necessary to ensure the participation of the non-Albanian population of Kosovo in the upcoming elections of December 23 in Serbia. According to the minister, it is necessary to begin the political process by outlining parameters of expanded autonomy for Kosovo within Yugoslavia. Sergeev adds that if Kosovo receives independence, a chain reaction will begin on the Balkans, “separatism may spread over Albanian areas of Macedonia, Presevskaya Valley in Southern Serbia, over Vojvodina, and destabilize the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Sergeev also does not rule out that the movement for the so-called “Great Albania” may begin more active operations, which “will result in new violence and bloodshed in the region.”

Finally, fifth, the circumstances associated with the organization of mobile forces of European corps in Europe will evidently influence relations between Russia and NATO in the future. There are many reasons to believe that Russia will support this initiative. Understanding a possible decrease of the role of NATO and the US in providing security in Europe, the Americans have also expressed their concern about this problem during the summit in Brussels.

US Defense Secretary William Cohen announced that too many questions about the future collaboration of NATO and European forces still remained without answers.

The general NATO response to the proposal to organize 69,000 Euro-Atlantic troops was favorably. Hoon said that Cohen’s speech was very frank and tough. Americans and their partners have a feeling that attempts to establish clear relations between NATO and the European Union have so far failed. Meanwhile some people are expressing apprehensions that the European rapid response forces could undermine NATO unity.

In resuming contacts with NATO, Russia thus plans to solve its own foreign policy problems. Of course, these problems are not simple, and not only authority of the state, but also its own security will primarily depend on their solution.