ROAR: “Perestroika rather than resetting” for Russia, NATO

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Analysts ask if the alliance is ready for equitable dialogue with Moscow after the parties unblocked the military cooperation.

The meeting of the Russia-NATO council that took place on December 4 unblocked the cooperation frozen at all levels after the 2008 events in Caucasus. The event, which had been under threat of failure “due to the tactics of the anti-Russian faction in the alliance”, was not only held in the end, but “it left all of its participants satisfied,” RBC daily said.

Russian envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, on December 1, accused the Canadian delegation of blocking all Russian initiatives prepared for the meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels. Britain and the Baltic countries were said to have supported the strategy.

However, at the last moment the disagreements were solved, and Moscow and NATO decided to reform “the format of cooperation with particular emphasis on Afghanistan,” the daily stressed.

The Russia-NATO Council approved all three working documents, including an instruction to start a review of common threats, a program for 2010 that determines cooperation, including stepping up military cooperation, and measures to improve the council’s structure and operations.

The parties decided to create several working groups. One of them will prepare a conception of cooperation on Afghanistan. Another one will consider issues of missile defense, and it may start working in January, Vremya Novostey daily said.

“The military cooperation has been fully resumed, but now we regard this from the point of view of pragmatism and effectiveness,” Rogozin told Vedomosti daily. Russia’s decision not to take part in NATO’s marine exercises, Active Endeavor, in the Mediterranean has become the example of such pragmatism, the paper said.

Rogozin explained that Russia was “counting money” and believed that there was no serious terrorist threat in the Mediterranean now. However, Moscow will join the maneuvers in 2011.

At the same time, NATO official refused to discuss a new pact draft on the European security proposed by Moscow. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it should be discussed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) rather than by NATO.

“The ministers said they are open to discuss it, but the OSCE remains the primary forum for that discussion,” Rasmussen told journalists. “There can be no doubt whatsoever that NATO will remain our framework for Euro-Atlantic security,” he added.

An anonymous NATO official explained to Vedomosti that OSCE was a more preferable platform for discussing Russia’s proposals because “all European countries are members of that organization unlike NATO.”

However, some analysts consider NATO’s response as “a polite denial.” “The West from the beginning was rather skeptical about this initiative,” Aleksey Mukhin, general director of the Center for Political Information, told RBC daily. The NATO proposal about the OSCE is “simply a diplomatic correctness,” he stressed, adding that it was difficult for Russia to hope for success in the framework of the OSCE.

Some European politicians have said that Russia wants the right of veto regarding European security issues. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that there was “no hidden meaning in the Russian draft – it contains no attempt to appropriate the right of veto on NATO activity.”

According to analysts, the main disagreements between the alliance and Russia concerns Russia’s discontent with NATO’s eastward enlargement and its steady intention to accept Ukraine and Georgia. Brussels is opposing Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

However, disagreements over Abkhazia and South Ossetia now remain “outside the brackets,” RBC daily said. The discussions about the breakaway Georgian republics will last routinely for a long time, but their influence on the relations between Moscow and NATO “is already yesterday,” Rogozin told the paper.

Alksandr Shatilov, deputy general director of the Center for Political Conjuncture believes that objective disagreement between Russia and NATO is minimal. NATO is not trying to integrate Georgia and Ukraine, he stressed, and is not emphasizing the topic of Russia’s interference into Georgian-North Ossetian conflict.

Moreover, there are common interests such as fighting piracy and Afghan drug trafficking. “In this regard, the role of NATO and American troops in Afghanistan is positive for us,” Shatilov said. They are opposing the Taliban, he said, adding that otherwise Russia would have to take part in ensuring security of Central Asian republics.

“On the other hand, relations between Russia and NATO should be considered as part of the triangle Moscow-Washington-Brussels,” the analyst told website. The tendency exists, he believes, that the better Russia’s relations with Washington are, the worse they are with Brussels, and vice versa.

When some problems have emerged regarding a new treaty on strategic offensive arms and Russia is proposing its own version of Euro-Atlantic partnership, the US wants “to demonstrate its negative attitude to the cooperation between Russia and Europe,” the analyst said.

The latest maneuvers of the US’s partners, such as Canada and Britain, complicating Russia-NATO relations are “elements of indirect pressure from Washington, which is dissatisfied by the low speed of resetting relations with Russia and Moscow’s excessive activity in the European direction, which the US considers to be its own," Shatilov said.

The August 2008 events are no more a stumbling block in the Russian-North Atlantic dialogue, believes Igor Shatrov, political scientist and a member of the Council on National Strategy. The discussion is now being held at a diplomatic and legal level, he wrote on website.

This disagreement will be “pulled from a dusty store-room” and used in the future, the analyst believes. But it will not affect the implementation of strategic tasks, he added. “The presence of serious common threats “does not make it possible to emphasize other details, less important at the moment,” he added.

At the same time, “the Russian leadership considers equitable dialogue the most important condition for cooperation,” the analyst noted.

However, Sergey Mikheev of the Center for Political Technologies thinks that NATO “is imitating” its cooperation with Russia. The main problem for the alliance is that “it considers Russia as an heir to the Soviet Union actually, not only formally,” he told website.

“The logic of the Cold War is being repeated: Russia is a potential military adversary,” Mikheev said. "This explains the alliance’s eastward enlargement and its many other moves concerning Russia.”

It is Russia, not NATO that “has changed,” the analyst said. But the alliance understands that they cannot ignore Russia because it is its closest neighbor, he noted. Moscow still should try to make NATO change its attitude to Russia, but it is a very difficult task, especially in the framework of the council, Mikheev said.

Despite disagreements, the meeting of the Russia-NATO council has clearly shown that “the parties cannot do without each other,” Vremya Novostey said. RBC daily added that the participants were satisfied with the “constructive character” of the meeting.

Rogozin joked that he would call the current relations between Moscow and NATO “perestroika rather than resetting,” the daily said. Rasmussen’s visit to Russia on December 15-17 will show “how serious this perestroika is,” the paper added.

Sergey Borisov, RT