ROAR: Russian-NATO relations “reaches new level, but distrust remains”

NATO foreign ministers are discussing relations with Russia without Moscow’s participation, analysts say.

The Western alliance’s foreign ministers have gathered in Tallinn, Estonia, to discuss the future of tactical nuclear weapons, missile defense in Europe and relations with Russia. Estonian media described the meeting as the biggest international political event in the country’s history.

Several NATO member states want US tactical nuclear weapons to be removed from Europe. However, the alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen believes that although nuclear disarmament is necessary, NATO’s task remains to protect “the 900 million people among its members.”

The Obama administration supports cuts in tactical weapons, but will not remove them from European countries unless Russia agrees to cuts in its arsenal, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the meeting of NATO foreign ministers.

Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has called on the US to withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. “We believe that determining the future of tactical nuclear weapons is possible only after they are returned to the territory they came from,” he said.

Moscow considers these weapons as strategic ones, Rogozin said. At the same time, the US has “no motivation” to return such weapons, he stressed.

Unlike this issue, missile defense seems to be the area where co-operation between Russia, NATO and the US is possible. Speaking about a missile shield for Europe, the alliance’s secretary general said it was “no replacement for an effective deterrent, but can complement it.” He reiterated his earlier statements that NATO must engage Russia on the issue of missile defense.

However, such co-operation is only possible “if all states are involved,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said. The analysis of the missile threats and finding ways to respond to these threats should be the first step in this work, he added.

Moscow will wait for concrete proposals from the alliance about possible building a united missile “roof” over Europe, observers believe.

The meeting of the Russia-NATO council was supposed to be part of the two-day informal gathering of ministers in Tallinn. But Moscow refused to take part because the alliance’s leadership did not invite Russia to discuss the key issues, Dmitry Rogozin told Kommersant daily.

“NATO has discussed Russia without Russia’s participation,” the paper said, adding that Rasmussen’s idea about missile defense “that should cover the space from Vancouver to Vladivostok” was on the agenda.

“There are no serious technical obstacles to combining the two systems of missile defense, and only political will is needed,” the paper said, citing its sources in the alliance. In the best case scenario, missile defense shield could be created in ten years, it added.

“Moscow hoped to discuss Rasmussen’s proposals during the meeting of the Russia-NATO council,” Kommersant said. But although important issues were on the agenda in Tallinn, Russia was offered “scraps from the table,” Rogozin told the paper.

According to Lavrov, Russia is closely co-operating with NATO in analyzing threats of missile proliferation. But other schemes are also being developed to counter threats without Russia’s participation, he said, calling this situation “a contradiction” that should be removed.

Rogozin believes that so far NATO’s proposals resemble “propaganda supposed to show that the alliance is open for everyone, but Russia rejects invitations to co-operation. However, there is nothing to discuss at this stage.”

Even if Moscow and NATO come to an agreement in this issue, the decision to create a joint missile defense system may be blocked by the alliance’s new member states, Ruslan Pukhov, director of Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told the paper.

NATO still remains concerned with the problem of possible joining the alliance by new members, including former Soviet republics, Ukraine and Georgia. At the summit in Tallinn, the alliance’s foreign ministers have granted a Membership Action Plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

New Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has made it clear that joining NATO was not on the country’s agenda. After Kiev concluded an agreement with Moscow on extending the lease of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea, politicians and analysts argued that this may hinder Ukraine’s possible joining the alliance.

But NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Tallinn on April 22 that this move would not affect Kiev’s prospects.

If Ukraine and Georgia “wish and fulfill the necessary criteria,” they will become members of NATO, Rasmussen said in Estonia, reiterating the alliance’s official position. Russia is opposing any plans to include former Soviet republics in the Western military bloc.

The deal between Moscow and Kiev on the fleet was “a bilateral agreement,” the secretary general said, adding that it will not have an impact on the alliance’s “relationship, neither with Russia nor with Ukraine.”

“The relations between the alliance and Russia reached a new level, but mutual distrust has remained,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta said. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the reason behind NATO’s activities has disappeared, said Yelena Besborodova, expert of the Institute for the USA and Canadian Studies.

At the same time, the US is strengthening its dominance and influence in Europe using the alliance, she noted at a round table at the institute, the paper said. This explains a simplified process of joining NATO for countries that do not meet such criteria but are “oriented towards the US’s policy,” the analyst said.

East European countries themselves were concerned about the Soviet dominance for a long time, deputy director of the institute Viktor Kremenyuk said. These countries “were playing the card of Russia’s threat during the process of NATO’s enlargement,” he noted.

Now Russia still wonders why the alliance needs enlargement and what the result of this process should be, Kremenyuk noted. The question is if this may become “a new form of containing Russia,” he said.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT