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30 Jun, 2009 10:43

ROAR: Russia, NATO military cooperation is only words so far

ROAR: Russia, NATO military cooperation is only words so far

Many Russian observers believe that the decision to resume cooperation between Moscow and NATO, including that in the military sphere, should be confirmed by concrete steps.

Russia and NATO have decided to resume cooperation – frozen after the war in Georgia over South Ossetia last August – during a meeting in Corfu, Greece on 27 June. The NATO-Russia Council was declared operational again.

The agreement in Corfu clears the way to resume a discussion over military cooperation on non-military transit to Afghanistan, anti-piracy operations and counter-terrorism, Russian analysts say. At the same time, many of them remain skeptical over the results of the Corfu meeting.

Pavel Zolotarev, deputy director of the Institute of the U.S. and Canada at the Russian Academy of Sciences, was quoted by Polit.ru as saying that in the end, NATO should not be the only organization that Russia is interested in. “One should remember Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s proposals on the new system of European security. It seems that there is a need to avoid NATO-centrism and proceed from the fact that the old structures could remain in the new system of European security,” Zolotarev said. He mentioned such structures as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), NATO and other structures in the military sphere that could emerge in the future.

“However, a somewhat different system should exist, based on principles that exclude dividing lines in Europe,” Zolotarev said. He added that the forthcoming meeting of the Russian president with his U.S. counterpart in Moscow had “pushed” the resumption of cooperation between Russia and NATO. The expert called the meeting in Corfu “a decoration,”, but said it was necessary so that the meeting [of the two presidents] would be fruitful and reflect general positive relations between Russia and the West.

Zolotarev also believes that the new U.S. administration will conduct itself differently in the post-Soviet space. “We hope that this factor will not hinder our cooperation,” he said.

Russian heavyweight liberal daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted Zolotarev as saying that the military cooperation between Russia and NATO is, “possible and necessary. I’m in favor of cooperation, but I see serious difficulties in this,” he said.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta also writes that few political analysts in Russia believe in the resumption of relations between Russia and the West.

Leonid Ivashov, the president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems told the daily that the meeting in Corfu was “empty.” “I thought, what does it mean, the cooperation between us? What was real? Meetings, conversations, discussions… No single serious deed or decision to be fulfilled. Despite these contacts and conversations, NATO was performing their own tasks,” he said. “It is unclear what is to be resumed here,” Ivashov added.

In his turn, Aleksey Bogaturov, Dean of the Moscow Institute of International Relations, told the same source that nothing will happen in cooperation between Russia and the West “until practical decisions in the Russian-U.S. relations are achieved.”

Some political analysts in Russia are trying to understand which side is more interested in cooperation, Russia or NATO. Maksim Minaev, an expert with the Center for Political Conjuncture of Russia, told Finam.ru that it would be NATO, because it is impossible for the alliance to build a strategy in Eurasia without a dialogue with Russia, which “seriously affects the political climate on the post-Soviet space and the situation in Europe.”

One should not forget, Minaev says, that the development of NATO’s military mission in Afghanistan also depends on cooperation with Russia, in particular, on the so-called North transport corridor.

“However, it’s a disputable question as to whether Russia should cooperate with NATO,” Minaev says, “especially taking into consideration that the alliance does not want to abandon the development of relations with Ukraine and Georgia. If today the subject of the alliance’s expansion may not be on the agenda, the alliance will likely to return to it within two years.”

Minaev does not see any concrete subjects of the dialogue between Russia and NATO except for Afghanistan. “One cannot expect any deep cooperation, including in the military sphere. Most likely, only dialogue between military and political representatives will be maintained for the change of opinions and consultations on general questions,” he said.

Olga Pavlenko, an associate professor at the Russian State University for Humanities, also believes that there is still no constructive dialogue between Russia and NATO. The meeting in Corfu “is simply preparing a favorable, positive background for Russian-American negotiations,” she believes.

The new administration in Washington “has not yet decided to what extent Russia is dangerous for the U.S. and their allies. Any real continuation of Russia-NATO cooperation, which was resumed at Corfu, will depend on the strategic dialogue between Russia and the U.S.," the expert told Finam.ru.

Russian business daily Kommersant underlined that the resumption of the cooperation was “facilitated by NATO and U.S. plans to redouble their efforts in Afghanistan.” The daily says that Russia is prepared to assist them and could even profit from transiting U.S. military planes.

The paper quoted a source in the Russian delegation at the meeting at Corfu as saying that “the Afghan issue was at the top of the agenda.”

The negotiations on the transit will continue at the Russia-U.S. summit in Moscow in July.

Vladimir Yevseev, an expert at the Center of International Security of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, believes that Afghanistan remains the place where the interests of Russia and U.S. coincide most. In the article published by the RIA Novosti news agency Yevseev stresses that this issue should become “a natural platform to build real partner relations.”

“Moscow could do more in solving the Afghan problem,” the expert thinks, “allowing Washington, for example, to transit military cargoes. Non-compliance on this issue is not understandable, as some NATO member states (Germany, Spain, and possibly France) have already received Moscow’s go-ahead to transport military cargoes,” Yevseev wrote.

Komsomolskaya Pravda daily writes that Russia “has reconciled” with NATO, despite the existing disagreements over South Ossetia. Moreover, the paper stresses that Russia is itself interested in “a deep discussion” over the events in Georgia that took place last year.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika foundation, told Komsomolskaya Pravda that sooner or later Russia and NATO had to resume the rapprochement. “It is symbolic that the decision to resume dialogue was made on the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow. This follows the strategy of the White House to reset relations with Russia,” he said.

“Everyone knows that all serious NATO steps are made only with the knowledge and approval of Washington, so one can think that the U.S. administration has shown us a goodwill gesture on the eve of the negotiations at the highest level,” he said.