Colonel-General Yuri Baluyevsky, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, met with senior NATO personnel on November 15, taking part in working meetings aimed at resolving issues relating to interoperability between Russian and NATO forces. At SHAPE HQ Mons, Belgium, he met U.S. General James Jones, Supreme Commander of Allied Personnel in Europe. Their discussions centered upon expanding existing NATO-Russia cooperation plans, currently being explored by the NATO-Russia Council. Agreement was also reached on the future supply of Russian weapons to the Iraqi army, as well an offer of Russian military training to the new Iraqi army in using these weapons on the condition that the training takes place outside Iraq (Itar-Tass, RIA Novosti, November 15).
NATO, keen to play broker between Washington and Moscow, will welcome success in the area of Iraq, an issue that has divided Russia and the United States and its allies. Russian interest in supplying weapons to Iraq is explained by the presence of Soviet weaponry in the country, and in this sense it is now a readily accessible market to Russian arms exporters. Baluyevsky justified these Russian supplies, since the Iraqi government will specify the exact levels and requirements and sales revenues will be reinvested in the Russian armed forces.
At a deeper level Baluyevsky, in fact, attaches great importance to the participation of the Russian Navy in joint exercises with NATO, known as “Active Endeavor.” These included 11 exercises involving the Russian Navy in 2004: three in the North Atlantic, three in the Baltic, and four in the Mediterranean Sea. The entry of a Russian Northern Fleet nuclear submarine into a foreign port, at the French port of Brest, was an historic though largely symbolic event, which Baluyevsky believes signaled a genuine intent to develop further the levels of military cooperation with the Alliance. The results of these exercises are being studied in depth in order to resolve technical questions relating to joint operations. Yet the whole basis of these Naval exercises is to promote joint action in the area of counter-terrorism. “Active Endeavor” concentrated on the interception, detention, and inspection of vessels suspected of involvement in terrorism. This sphere is therefore key to furthering Russian military cooperation with the Alliance.
In an interview on the priorities of the Russian military with Krasnaya zvezda on November 6, Baluyevsky asserted, “I am certain that today there are objective conditions to allow Russia to fine-tune a new mode of coordination with NATO.” His confidence lies in his belief that conditions exist necessitating cooperation between the Russian military and NATO that genuinely combats terrorism and reduces the risk of weapons proliferation into the hands of terrorists. Baluyevsky went on, “At present, Russian and NATO experts are considering a draft document on current and future terrorist threats to the armed forces of Russia and NATO member states, which contains a definition of the terrorist threat, a description of the means of influencing a target of terrorist attack, and a general assessment of the threat of terrorist attacks,” which would remove mutual obstacles and political misunderstandings that have tended to inhibit practical counter-terrorist cooperation (Krasnaya zvezda, November 6).
In the aftermath of Beslan, the Ministry of Defense and General Staff are working intensively to standardize uniform and better-coordinated responses to terrorism. It is intended to differ from previous legislative efforts to enhance the state’s anti-terrorist capabilities in as much as the system will be anticipatory in its nature; designed to predict, identify, and prevent crisis situations. The scale and momentum in these efforts towards raising the ability of the state to combat terrorism, supplies a context in which Baluyevsky’s enthusiasm for joint exercises with NATO must be understood.
Baluyevsky chose to highlight key threats to the security the Russian Federation during his interview with the official publication of the Ministry of Defense (Krasnaya zvezda), which may signify a shift away from the traditional Russian rhetoric about NATO as an outdated and anti-Russian alliance. Instead, he selected the one real tangible threat to Russian security: international terrorism, unambiguously suggesting that Russia could benefit from closer cooperation with the Alliance. He purposefully avoided controversial areas of NATO policy that cause a negative reaction within security circles in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin is driving these new practical priorities in Russian military thinking, desperate as he is to show real progress in the post-Beslan security environment in Russia. Moreover, his military chief can determine the levels of interest in pursuing practical cooperation in this crucial area for himself at first hand.