After several months of often-difficult negotiations, officials from Russia and the West appeared last week to finally have achieved a breakthrough on a plan aimed at giving Moscow a more concrete role in alliance affairs. Details of these most recent negotiations have not been made public, but reports are indicating that agreement has been reached on key issues. The first involves creating a new Russia-NATO council on which Russia will sit as an equal with NATO member states. The second is scheduling a special NATO-Russia summit, to be held in Italy at the end of next month, at which Russian, American and European leaders will formally recognize the new council.
If all goes according to plan, in other words, NATO and Russia now appear on track to meet an earlier imposed deadline under which they were to formalize their new relationship at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers scheduled for May 14-15 in Iceland. The two sides will reportedly also have launched active cooperation under the aegis of the new council well before the alliance’s historic November summit in Prague, at which expansion plans long opposed by Moscow will be approved. Last week’s reported breakthrough in NATO-Russia negotiations, finally, should eliminate at least one point of potential friction for Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin when they hold their own summit meeting in Moscow and St. Petersburg on May 23-26.
Amid the frenzy of diplomatic consultation that took place last week on urgent issues ranging from the violence in the Middle East to the U.S.-led antiterror war to Russian-U.S. and Russian-German relations, it is unclear at exactly which point the breakthrough in NATO-Russia relations occurred. The two sides held formal talks in Moscow on April 8, and there were reports that some progress had been made. But it is perhaps noteworthy that Russian diplomatic sources were quoted immediately afterward as saying that “serious problems” remained unresolved, and that the Kremlin-backed Strana.ru website reported as late as April 10 “that the dialogue between Russia and NATO is not developing as positively as might have been hoped” (Interfax, April 9; Strana.ru, April 10). At issue appeared to be Moscow’s continuing demand that the new Russia-NATO council confer upon Russia some concrete role in NATO’s decision-making process. Russian frustration on this point was expressed yet again by Putin on April 9 during a high-profile visit to Germany when he complained that Russia-NATO cooperation would “not lead to a new quality of relations as long as Russia cannot take part in [the alliance’s] decisionmaking.”
But Putin’s talks in Germany now appear to have been part of a larger process that was bringing the two sides closer together on the form that the new Russia-NATO council would take. The Russian president received a notable endorsement in this respect from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who said publicly on April 9 that Putin’s call for a concrete role in NATO were “justified” and that Moscow should indeed be given decisionmaking powers in the proposed new Russia-NATO council. On the same day, moreover, U.S. President George W. Bush appeared to line up with the German leader when he said after a meeting in Washington with NATO Secretary General George Robertson that the alliance “must forge a new relationship with Russia” even as it embarks on expansion stretching it “from the Baltic to the Black Sea.” Washington’s preparedness to back a more robust role for Russia in NATO was apparently also signaled during talks that took place in Madrid on April 11 between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. According to Strana.ru, Powell expressed the Bush administration’s support both to create the new Russia-NATO council and to convene a special summit to mark the occasion (AP, April 9; AFP, April 10; Strana.ru, April 11).
ITALIAN LEADER BRINGS RUSSIA AND NATO TOGETHER.