Adjacent summits for the CIS and NATO: a comparison

It so happened that two parallel summits took place in the past week: the NATO summit in Riga (November 28-29) and the Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Minsk (November 28). In comparison to the CIS summit, the NATO summit seemed far more effective.

It so happened that two parallel summits took place in the past week: the NATO summit in Riga (November 28-29) and the Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Minsk (November 28). CIS Executive Secretary Vladimir Rushailo attempted to explain that there was no need to seek “any antagonisms” in this, while also emphasizing the priority of military and defense industry cooperation within the CIS framework. Experts have long been saying that the CIS has turned into a “club of presidents” who make decisions that none of the CIS countries actually strives to implement. In comparison, NATO seems far more effective.

So where’s the Common Air Defense System agreement?

The choice of the Belarusian capital as the meeting-place for CIS heads of state was hardly coincidental, given that the NATO summit was held next door in Latvia. This geographical circumstance was further emphasized when the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Council of Defense Ministers met in Brest on November 23. Clearly, all this is particularly advantageous for Moscow and Minsk.

The NATO leadership also made an effort by deciding to hold the summit in Riga. A mere 15 years ago, Latvia was part of the USSR; it only joined NATO recently. Thus, by gathering in the capital of a former Soviet republic, NATO leaders re-emphasized that the “borders of European security” have been moved close to Russia and are there to stay for a good long time (if not forever). As for Brest, where Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov met with his counterparts, that city is very close to the border of a NATO member state – Poland. In short, the “hints” from both sides were perfectly transparent.

All the same, as they met close to NATO’s borders, the CSTO defense ministers didn’t make any notable anti-Atlantist statements; neither did they make any impressive decisions. Of course, not all of the seven CSTO defense ministers (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) would have been able to “caution” NATO against making any hardline statements in Riga, but analysts assumed that at least two of them might do so: Sergei Ivanov and his Belarusian counterpart Colonel-General Leonid Maltsev. By the time of the Brest meeting, it was already known that the NATO summit planned to send a “strong message” to Georgia and Ukraine, as well as some states in the Western Balkans, to the effect that NATO’s door is open to them – all they have to do is walk in. Instead, however, on the opening day of the NATO summit, Sergei Ivanov made a rather odd statement in St. Petersburg: Russia has little influence on the process of NATO enlargment.

Moreover, the Brest meeting was expected to include the signing of a long-awaited agreement on establishing a Russian-Belarusian Common Air Defense System. Officials in both Moscow and Minsk were talking about this all through November. Army General Vladimir Mikhailov, Commander of the Russian Air Force, raised hopes by saying that this agreement was scheduled to be signed in Brest on November 23. Alas! The Russian government, which is still considering the relevant draft resolution, announced on November 24 that it would present some proposals to President Putin about signing a Russian-Belarusian agreement on joint security measures for the external air borders of the Union State, and establishing a Common Regional System for air defense. The Common Regional System agreement wasn’t signed in Minsk either, although it’s obvious that if an agreement had been signed in Brest (or in Minsk, with all CIS and CSTO leaders participating) it would have had a substantial political impact. After all, NATO aircraft are already based in Poland and the Baltic states. Components of America’s global missile defense system are being deployed close to CIS borders. Signing an agreement would have boosted the CSTO’s credibility significantly – given that this seven-state alliance has already established its effective Western group (over 200,000 Russian-Belarusian troops).

Without that, the meeting of defense ministers in Brest turned into a routine event, with the signing of a few dull papers concerning military technology cooperation and free training in Russia for cadets and officers from other CSTO countries. Neither did the CIS presidents produce any surprises when they met in Minsk.

NATO’s open door

In comparison, the gathering of Atlantists in Riga seemed far more substantial – even though Ukrainian domestic politics disrupted earlier plans to offer Kiev a NATO Membership Action Plan.

The Atlantists discussed energy security and the state of their woeful affairs in Afghanistan. Clearly, the anti-Taliban coalition forces have bogged down there. The International Force is awaiting reinforcements from NATO member states, but few countries have provided additional contingents thus far.

Of course, the greatest suspense at the summit focused on the question of what NATO would offer its “loyal adherents” on the path to membership – Georgia and Ukraine. In Riga, it was stated quite unequivocally that both Kiev and Tbilisi could become NATO members by as soon as 2008. Moreover, there were some general expressions of bafflement that Russia or any other country might be alarmed at the prospect of democracy entrenching itself near their borders – after all, that’s what NATO enlargement means, allegedly: “greater stability and greater democracy.” This assertion from NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is disputable, not self-evident at all – since no matter what kind of pacifist trappings NATO may choose to wear, it’s still primarily a military bloc. President George W. Bush found it necessary to emphasize in Riga that NATO forces and capabilities must be improved, “so that our alliance can complete 21st century missions successfully.”

Everything seems more or less clear with regard to Georgia – its Intensified Dialogue with NATO could take only two years, compared to five years or more for some other countries. Georgia would then become a full-fledged NATO member, unless the process is disrupted by Washington and the European Union doing some sort of major political deal with Moscow. NATO is obviously in a hurry to entrench itself in the Caucasus, where it has no bridge-heads of its own as yet. But that’s not the only problem. Brussels is bound to be considering Georgia as an alternative to the “indecisive” Turkey, which recently refused to make its airfields available for air-strikes on Iraq. And the Pentagon, bogged down in Iraq, is thinking about how to deal with Iran as well. So it’s no coincidence that numerous foreign specialists have come to Georgia to assist in rapidly restoring and upgrading Soviet strategic military airfields that were abandoned in the 1990s, along with opening new military bases built to NATO standards.

Moreover, Washington is requesting insistently that NATO membership for Georgia should be accelerated. On November 17, the US Senate voted unanimously in favor of a bill in support of NATO membership for Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, and Georgia; aid will be provided to bring their armed forces up to NATO standards. Georgia will receive more money than any of the other three countries – $10 million ($3.2 million for Albania, $3 million for Croatia, $3.6 million for Macedonia). And at the Riga summit, President Bush openly advised his allies to start showing more loyalty on the question of Georgia joining NATO as soon as possible.

It isn’t certain that Georgia would be denied NATO membership due to its problems with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For example, there has long been discord (even armed conflict) between Greece and Turkey, but both countries have been Atlantists for years. Meanwhile, Tbilisi actually cherishes the hope that with NATO’s assistance it will be able to re-establish Georgia’s territorial integrity – and Georgian officials are persistently reluctant to rule out a military scenario.

As for the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO any time soon, the situation doesn’t look so favorable there. The Orange forces have failed to drag Ukraine into NATO on the crest of the revolutionary wave. In September, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych reined in President Viktor Yushchenko’s NATO fervor. Contrary to Yushchenko’s instructions, Yanukovych stated openly during a visit to Brussels that it is still too soon for Kiev to participate in a Membership Action Plan: look, most of the people are against NATO membership, and this summer there were protests in the Crimea against the presence of foreign troops for a joint exercise. If you don’t believe me, said Yanukovych, we could hold a referendum that would provide obvious confirmation.

A few days before the Riga summit, Yushchenko called Scheffer and assured him that integration into the European Union and NATO remains Ukraine’s strategic policy course; however, Ukraine’s leading forces still can’t decide when Ukraine will be ready to accept a Membership Action Plan invitation. Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, visiting Portugal for Ukraine-NATO consultations, took it upon himself to declare that Kiev’s defense and security policy, entailing NATO membership for Ukraine, is unchanged and irreversible. The impression is that in the lead-up to the Riga summit, Yushchenko and his cohorts feared that Brussels might become disillusioned with Kiev’s “unreliable” policy on NATO and refrain from giving Ukraine a “strong encouraging signal.” They had reason to fear.

In the lead-up to the summit, the results of two opinion polls were released in Ukraine. In early October, the Sofia Social Studies Center reported that only 21.5% of 2,010 respondents say they would vote in favor of NATO membership if a referendum is held – while 60.2% say they would vote against it. Integration with Russia and other CIS countries is supported by 47.1% of respondents, while 20.5% prefer integation with Western countries. A few days before the summit, the Gorshenin Management Institute in Kiev reported that 50% of 2,043 respondents are opposed to the idea of Ukraine joining NATO, while 20.3% are in favor of it, and the rest are uncertain.

One way or another, the results of both these polls clearly don’t support the position of Viktor Yushchenko and other pro-Atlantists in Ukraine – who make no secret of their intention to put all their efforts into changing this anti-NATO situation by 2008.