Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 228

In what reports suggested was an unusually warm meeting of NATO’s Permanent Joint Council (PJC), Russia and the Western military alliance yesterday celebrated eighteen months of cooperation and hailed their joint peacemaking efforts in the Balkans. NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also used yesterday’s meeting in Belgium to invite Russia to take part in NATO’s fiftieth anniversary summit in Washington next April. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who represented Moscow at yesterday’s talks, reportedly offered no immediate response.

Western officials participating in yesterday’s meeting suggested that Ivanov–who was attending his first PJC gathering–had been a considerably more engaging partner than his predecessor, current Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Ivanov, for his part, was quoted as saying that Russia and NATO had “come a long way from mistrust to understanding” since the two sides signed the Russia-NATO Founding Act in Paris in May of last year. The creation of the PJC, which serves as a consultative mechanism for Russia and NATO, was set out in the Founding Act (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, December 9).

For all the warm words uttered yesterday, however, Ivanov’s silence on the question of Russia’s participation in NATO’s fiftieth anniversary summit was perhaps a more telling reflection of the uneasy state of affairs which persists between Moscow and the Western alliance. Russian leaders have objected strongly and often to NATO’s enlargement plans, and are undoubtedly loathe to take part in a summit at which three Eastern European countries–Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary–are to be welcomed into the alliance.

Russian-NATO cooperation, moreover, has been anything but trouble-free. Even in the area of their greatest success–the peacekeeping effort in the Balkans–the two sides have clashed repeatedly over NATO threats to launch air strikes against Yugoslavia. Disagreement on that issue has reflected a broader division between Russia and NATO: namely, Moscow’s unyielding support for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at a time when most Western nations have held him primarily responsible for the bloodshed in Kosovo. Moscow’s sympathy for the Serbs has also been evident in Bosnia, where Russia’s peacekeeping contingent recently protested the arrest by U.S. NATO troops of Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic and his dispatch to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Cooperation between the sides has been minimal in other areas as well. Although Russia has established a presence at NATO headquarters in Brussels, there have been repeated delays in the creation of analogous NATO representation in Moscow. Russia has also participated only sporadically in Partnership for Peace activities, despite having committed itself earlier to do more in this area.

For all of that, the two sides yesterday did endorse an action program for 1999 which, if implemented, could promote greater transparency and confidence between Russia and NATO. The two sides are to conduct studies on peacekeeping and crisis management, work on the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, consult on the safety of nuclear weapons and the Millennium computer bug, and seek to make progress on conventional disarmament and other areas of military cooperation (Reuters, Russian agencies, December 9).