Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 8 Issue: 11

On May 28 in Rome, an unprecedented summit of NATO’s nineteen member countries and Russia launched a NATO-Russia Council (NRC), the first institutional expression of a growing political rapprochement. Russia receives some carefully regulated decisionmaking powers within that body, which has somewhat misleadingly been dubbed “NATO at 20.” It is not a NATO–nor is it a 19 + 1 club any longer–but a NATO-Russia forum of twenty coequal countries.

While debate abounds in the West over the possible consequences for NATO of this development, there is virtually no Western discussion of how the new relationship with Russia would affect the vast area to the east of the enlarging NATO. Western coverage of the U.S.-Russia summit, held the preceding week, similarly overlooked the problems in post-Soviet Eurasia, even as Russian president Vladimir Putin had moved to create a Russian-led political-military bloc of reluctant countries there.

Yet, this is the area–from Poland’s and the Baltic states’ eastern borders all the way to the Black Sea-South Caucasus-Caspian Sea-Central Asia continuum–where the West as a whole has in recent years developed vital economic, strategic and security interests. It is also the area in which potential threats need urgently to be addressed by the West collectively. This, not core Europe, is the area in which NATO will either pass or fail the test–which the alliance itself seems to seek–of its relevance.

How will the new NATO-Russia relationship generally, and the NRC specifically, affect countries and developments in that area? The NRC includes NATO’s nineteen current member countries and Russia, but leaves out the countries aspiring to NATO membership. NRC’s statutory functions include “consensus-building, joint decision and joint action for the member states of NATO and Russia.” The domains of such joint endeavors are listed, albeit in general language, leaving ample scope for interpretation down the road. Two of these domains would directly affect the NATO aspirant countries and the countries in post-Soviet Eurasia that are eager for close relations with the United States and NATO.

Line item two in the May 28 Declaration envisages “regular exchanges of views and information on peacekeeping operations, including continuing cooperation and consultations on the situation in the Balkans; promoting interoperability between national peacekeeping contingents; and further development of a generic concept for joint NATO-Russia peacekeeping operations.” While the NATO-led, bona fide peacekeeping operations in the Balkans are thus included on the NATO-Russia agenda, Russia’s illegitimate “peacekeeping” operations in the former Soviet Union are not mentioned as a subject on the NATO-Russia agenda. Will the NRC make it a subject? Will NATO itself seek to internationalize the existing Russian “peacekeeping” operations?

At present, Russia holds de facto a monopoly on “peacekeeping” in the “CIS space,” though it failed to obtain international recognition of such a prerogative. An element of a Russian sphere of influence has thus been created in the last decade, and has remained in place since then. One challenge before NATO members is to avoid any impression of a Russia-NATO division of peacekeeping spheres. The task lies wholly within NATO’s means. Any “joint NATO-Russia peacekeeping operations” should extend to Moldova, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

The Declaration’s line item four envisages ratification of the Agreement on the Adaptation of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty by all the states-parties, “which [ratification] would permit accession by non-CFE states.” The second element in this clause implies accession to the CFE Treaty by the three Baltic states, which are not parties to the original treaty or the adaptation agreement. Russia wants to see the three Baltic states covered by CFE ceilings, so as to restrict the weaponry that NATO may station in the Baltic states, once they become members of the alliance. For their part, the Balts and NATO take the position that the three states can accede to the adapted CFE Treaty once they join the alliance as members. Russia now seems to be moving toward acceptance of this viewpoint.

But will NATO go for ratification of a treaty that Russia has been flagrantly violating for years now in the South Caucasus? There, Russia moved some of its CFE-restricted combat hardware from the Akhalkalaki base in Georgia to the Gyumri base in Armenia, instead of scrapping it or repatriating it to Russia; it retains the Gudauta base in Georgia, almost one year after the stipulated deadline for its closure; and refuses to allow the OSCE- and CFE-mandated inspection there. Meanwhile, Russian-supplied combat hardware with Armenian forces in Karabakh also escapes the international verification.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–the CFE Treaty’s sponsoring body–is powerless to correct or even call those violations, simply because Russia holds veto power in the OSCE under the latter’s consensus rule. The newly created NRC will also operate with Russian consensus. But that does not apply to NATO as such. Will NATO condone the emergence of areas of differentiated security, one in which NATO members comply with the adapted CFE Treaty as a matter of course, and even accede to it when under no obligation to do so (as with the Baltic states after joining NATO), and a different area in which Russia is given license to violate the Treaty, not just on its own territory, but on the territories of sovereign countries?

The NRC will operate by consensus, with each one of the nineteen allied countries acting in its own national capacity–rather than as an alliance–and Russia an equal member among equals, entitled to block decisions through the OSCE-like device of withholding consensus. To prevent a possible paralysis through Russian obstruction, NATO has introduced a set of “safeguards” in the NRC. Any member country is entitled to “retrieve” any issue from the NRC forum of 20, and introduce it on the agenda of NATO itself, for decision by the Nineteen. How this will work in practice is yet to be tested. The Russian side may be expected to turn such situations into scenes.

One certainty is that Russia will have no influence on decisions related to NATO’s upcoming, robust enlargement, or on the alliance’s Partnership programs with noncandidate countries such as Ukraine. There, the Kremlin is currently trying to influence Ukraine’s orientation directly, through bilateral mechanisms. It also seeks to include Central Asian countries, along with Belarus and Armenia, into a Russian-led alliance.

“The Fortnight in Review” is prepared by senior analysts Jonas Bernstein (Russia), Stephen Foye (Security and Foreign Policy), and Vladimir Socor (Non-Russian republics). Editor, Stephen Foye. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at pubs@jamestown.org, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4526 43rd Street NW, Washington, DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of “The Fortnight in Review” is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation