German Defense Minister Rudolph Sharping recently visited Moscow. He met with his Russian counterpart Marshal Igor Sergeev, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, and Duma Defense Committee Chair Andrei Nikolaev. The one-day visit by the German Defense Minister was very busy. The parties discussed not only military political problems, but also the prospects for bilateral military and military technological cooperation. This cooperation will mainly have a political character. A NATO information bureau NATO will be established in Moscow again. The countries will organize joint military exercises, and will actively collaborate in the joint peacekeeping operations on the Balkans.

Summarizing the results of his visit to Moscow, Sharping remarked on the improvement of relations between the alliance and Russia. He says that return of Russian observers to NATO headquarters in Brussels is evidence of such improvement. NATO Secretary General George Robertson is expected to open the information bureau during his upcoming visit to Moscow.

It is important for Russia that during his visit to Moscow Sharping confirmed Germany’s negative attitude toward US intentions to deploy a national missile defense (NMD) system. It is interesting that on the same day (January 30) French President Jacques Chirac and Italian Prime Minister Juliano Amato criticized American NMD plans during their joint press conference in Turin. Chirac emphasized that NMD deployment would inevitably lead to a new arms race, and the money the US would spend on such a system could be spend on financing of development programs in the third world countries. In turn, Amato announced that American plans might threaten the unity of NATO.

Thus, Sharping’s visit to Moscow became the peak of the consolidation of European forces against the American NMD program. The problems associated with the so-called “Balkan syndrome,” which are still very important for the continent, also contribute to this consolidation. Germany, France, and Italy are the most active critics of Pentagon for its use of depleted uranium-238 ordnance in the war against Yugoslavia.

Meanwhile, unlike Russia, European countries like the US are concerned about the missile programs of so-called rogue states. During negotiations in Moscow Sharping expressed his conviction that it was necessary to take urgent measures to protect the world from the threat posed by new nuclear powers. As a first step to this goal Sharping proposed establishment of close collaboration between the relevant agencies of the US, Russia, and Germany.

This again confirms that despite the warmth which Vladimir Putin wants to add to Russian-German relations, it is clear that Bonn acts firmly and pragmatically in its contacts with Moscow. It is against deployment of American NMD, and is one of initiators of Eurocorps organization, but says that it is necessary to keep American forces on the continent and continue participation in NATO, while also involving Russia in its operations. Bonn advocates Russian participation in the peacekeeping operations on the Balkans, but Russian peacekeepers in Kosovo have not been admitted to the German sector. Germany sees nothing bad about NATO eastward expansion, and is prepared to invest in its former Prussian province, which is currently the Kaliningrad Region.

Meanwhile, development of military technological cooperation of the countries proper has only just begun. There are some problems in this field. For example, last year Germany refused to take part in design and production of the An-70 military transport airplane in alliance with Ukraine and Russia. German Ambassador to Russia Ernst Jorg von Studnitz has announced that Europe, especially Germany, is going to develop its own aircraft building industry. Obviously practical motives are behind this abandonment of cooperation, which is characteristic for Germany and its military and military technological relations with Russia.

Proceeding from this pragmatic attitude, Moscow and Bonn signed an intergovernmental agreement on standardization, joint upgrading, and maintenance of the MiG-29 airplane in the interests of three countries. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Dmitriev and German Ambassador von Studnitz signed this agreement on January 11. A few days later some observers commented on the agreement’s signing, saying that Russia allegedly yielded the market of the MiG-29 upgrading to Germany for the sake of political interests arising from personal sympathy of Schroeder and Putin (the agreement on the upgrading of the MiG-29 was signed four days after their meeting on Christmas holidays in Moscow).

It is difficult to agree with such conclusions, because the parties signed only a basic document. The most important thing is that the Russian-German collaboration in the MiG-29 operation receives almost a monopoly right for standardization of these airplanes. Germany is a NATO member, and has the highest level of economic development in entire Europe. Hardly anyone can be its rival if it decides to upgrade Soviet airplanes in alliance with Russia. Thus, according to Dmitriev, an attempt to upgrade the MiG-29 without Russia, including the recent attempts by Romania and Israel, will fail. Dmitriev adds that the agreement with Germany is the first document in Russian-German relations which makes provision for participation by our country in upgrading of combat airplanes to meet NATO standards. The agreement will be effective for three years. The parties are optimistic about the number of potential clients willing to upgrade the MiG-29. In Europe alone this market (not including Germany) totals 150 airplanes. Hence it is possible that Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and a number of other countries, probably including Romania, which has until recently been in contact with Israel, may wish to upgrade their airplanes with German and Russian assistance. According to Dmitriev, such offers from some of these countries have already been received.

Thus, Russian-German military relations have made a certain amount of progress. However, this progress does not mean that all problems have been solved and Moscow has acquired a devoted ally in Europe. Unfortunately, Russia is still too weak from an economic standpoint. It is deep in debts, and this circumstance pushes it towards paying off Europe by means of the Kaliningrad enclave. At any rate, it is evident that Germany and other countries will not dominate there. After the breakup of the Soviet Union most of the Russian Baltic Fleet has been concentrated in that region. The main naval base of the Baltic Fleet is also located there. All this shows that most likely a special economic zone will be organized there, in which German capital will dominate, but Russian guns will take care of defense.