Will NATO in Georgia thwart efforts to reset US-Russian relations?
Russia has criticised NATO's plans to hold exercises in Georgia next month, saying they could destabilize the sensitive region.
Moscow has voiced its displeasure about the military exercises in Georgia, scheduled to begin on May 3rd and continue for one month, especially as they are happening at a time when the US administration of Barack Obama has called for a 'resetting' relations with Russia.
NATO insists the exercises pose no threat, and says Russia is welcome to take part, but Russian officials are interpreting the planned exercises as a sign that not everyone in the US is ready to push the reset button with Russia.
On one hand, Russian and American leaders had agreed to work together on making the world a safer place. On the other, American troops are on their way to the Russian border to take part in NATO military exercises in Georgia next month.
Dr. Ivan Eland, from the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty, blames some of Obama’s own team for their old guard views on foreign policy.
“This is an example of where even the most liberal aspects of the American political spectrum still buy into this internationalism and NATO alliances and really neo-containment of Russia. Even though they have a gentler face than the Bush administration, which was quite hawkish,” said Eland.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov echoed concerns over the NATO military presence in this sensitive region:
“Russia hopes the correct conclusion will come from the war on the Caucasus, which took place in August last year. I mean it should be clear that it is dangerous to arm Georgia. We know how the Saakashvili regime used the offensive weapons that were supplied in the last few years, despite Russia’s warning,” Lavrov said.
Global security would benefit if plans for drastic cuts in Russian and American nuclear arsenals are carried out.
Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev agreed to negotiate a new reduction treaty, but a fresh report published by the Federation of American scientists is causing a stir on both sides of the Atlantic.
While generally supporting the idea of nuclear disarmament, the report suggests the US chooses several sensitive targets to cripple the Russian economy. The authors go as far as to name specific Russian power plants and steel works slated for annihilation.
Putting the bluntness of the suggestion aside, other experts say that these plans are simply uncalled for:
“There is no such scenario in my view that the US or Russia faces that they cannot deal with conventional weaponry, except a potential attack by another country using nuclear weapons,” concludes Deryl Kimball, the executive director of Arms Control Association.
While the report was not commissioned by Obama’s administration, the timing could not be worse.
The desire to rekindle a warm relationship has been expressed by the White House, but to make that possible, they first have to figure out what they really want to do: find a new way with Russia, or continue down their old path?
Russia's envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin says NATO exercises in Georgia will do more harm than good:
“You should not aggravate the situation when there's no need to do so. You should not put out a fire with kerosene,“ warned Rogozin.
Rogozin also noted that “Russia is behaving quite rationally and I think that even in Georgia there are people who back our appeal to the alliance to call-off the games. No one needs these games in the South Caucasus at the moment.”
Discussing the joint NATO-Georgia exercise, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the Cooperative Longbow/Lancer 2009 exercise will do more harm than good.
“NATO’s decision to conduct a military training exercise in Georgia is wrong and dangerous,” said the Russian president. “When one or other military bloc conducts training in areas where not too long ago tensions were mounting, and things are not easy there still, it has the potential for all kinds of complications.”
President Medvedev also added that “This decision is shortsighted and it does not help NATO’s relations with Russia. Russia will keep a close eye on NATO’s exercises in Georgia, and if we have to, we will make the necessary decisions.”