Lisbon NATO Summit and Russia: Crown Jewels for Chicken Feed?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 211

The fictional character, George Smiley, was fond of saying that bargaining with the Russians tends to result in giving away the Crown Jewels in return for chicken feed.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about what is currently being bargained away by the West to Russia. The West seems willing to negotiate on its security organizations’ independent decision-making ability in return for Russian tactical cooperation on Afghanistan. The only thing that is in dispute is the degree to which Russia will have a future say in EU and NATO decisions.

The Russian National Security Concept, signed by then President Vladimir Putin in January 2000, brought into play Russia’s current world-view and doctrine. Moscow’s goal is the transformation of a US-centric (unipolar) world into a multipolar model, in which one of the more important centers-of-power is a Russia that is respected by all and has complete hegemony in its “sphere of privileged interests.” One of the main threats to Russia, according to that concept, was “the danger of a weakening of Russia’s political, economic and military influence in the world” and “eastward expansion of NATO.” The term “sphere of privileged interests” was later added to the mainstream Russian foreign policy narrative by the modernizer President Dmitry Medvedev (http://www.russiaeurope.mid.ru/russiastrat2000.html).

On August 31, 2008, Medvedev outlined five principles guiding his foreign policy in the wake of the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, including, “Protecting the lives and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, is an unquestionable priority for our country. Our foreign policy decisions will be based on this need. We will also protect the interests of our business community abroad. It should be clear to all that we will respond to any aggressive acts committed against us. Finally, as is the case of other countries, there are regions in which Russia has privileged interests. These regions are home to countries with which we share special historical relations and are bound together as friends and good neighbors” (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/privileged-interests.htm). 

This sphere of interests comprises several of Russia’s neighboring countries and a large part of Eastern Europe. It also includes some who are already NATO members. Medvedev subsequently said, “…Our neighbors are without any doubt states that are traditionally close to us and they represent the traditional sphere of interests of the Russian Federation. And the Russian Federation is for them exactly the same sort of traditional sphere of interest… It is not even a matter of belonging to this or that organization, this or that bloc, but rather the common history and genetic connectedness of our economies and the very close kinship of our souls” (Transcript of the Meeting with the Participants in the International Club Valdai with President Dmitry Medvedev, September 12, 2008, http://www.sras.org/transcript_of_the_valdai_club_meeting_2008). According to this logic, the pillars of a unipolar world are, in particular, NATO and the EU. However, even the OSCE, or those international organizations where the Russians does not have a vote or control over decisions, form the foundations of this unipolar world. As such, they stand in the way of Russia becoming a great power. Expansion of NATO is a direct provocation that opposes Russia’s legitimate interests of being a dominant power.

In his speech at the Munich security conference in February 2007, Putin pronounced the end of the unipolar world.  He announced, “I am convinced that we have entered that decisive moment, where we have to seriously reconsider the global security architecture.” From that point, Russia advanced from the realm of thought to enter the realm of deeds. Putin issued a decree with which Russia renounced all of its obligations under the Conventional Forces Europe [CFE] treaty. In other words, Putin abandoned the system of military balance that had been in place since 1990. This included Russia’s obligation to notify its neighbors of, for example, such things as a military build-up by Russia on their borders. He demonstrated that Russia, as a great power, was already creating a new security arrangement.

Moscow’s next step was to demonstrate that it can directly influence NATO’s decision-making and halt NATO’s enlargement. Putin in Munich on February 10, 2007, declared, “NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust.” Moscow started a skilful and persistent campaign of swaying some NATO member countries willing to be swayed, notably Germany and France, to torpedo extending membership action plan (MAP) to Georgia and Ukraine at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008. Ukraine and Georgia were promised eventual membership at some indeterminate future date although MAP itself was denied because of opposition by Germany and France. This occurred despite personal pleas by the US president and US diplomatic pressure to proffer the MAP. At the post-summit press conference, Putin openly sneered, saying, “Besides, if the discussion on your expansion issues developed differently yesterday, today’s [Afghanistan] transit agreement would not likely be signed.” For the first time in its history, a NATO decision was made that suited the Russian president more than his US counterpart.

The ability to halt NATO expansion is hardly enough for Russia.  Its objective is to neutralize NATO as an independent center-of-power. In June 2008, following NATO’s Bucharest summit, President Medvedev introduced the idea of new security architecture for Europe (http://archive.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2008/06/05/2203_type82912type82914type84779_202153.shtml, June 5, 2008).

Meeting with a large group of German political and civic leaders, Medvedev asserted that the days of the Euro-Atlantic security system (read: NATO) were numbered and he stated directly that if there were any future expansion of NATO, Russia would terminate all cooperation with the West. Apparently, what is needed is a new global security arrangement and “a unified Euro-Atlantic space from Vancouver to Vladivostok.” The conditions under which such unification is achieved and whether there is sufficient unification will be for Russia to decide.

In December 2009, NATO’s Secretary-General, Anders Fogh-Rasmussen, visited Moscow and requested assistance on Afghanistan. The Russians responded with a demand for an “agreement on the basis of NATO-Russia cooperation” (EDM, October 28). During the course of the year, NATO-Russia relations intensified largely on Russian terms. In April 2009, during the Tallinn NATO meeting, Russia (not present) was invited to participate in the “missile defence shield” project; the same one that had been planned for deployment in Poland, but had been scrapped following Moscow’s objections. In September 2010, the NATO Secretary-General invited Russia to participate in the NATO summit planned for Lisbon. NATO speaks of Russia ever more insistently as a strategic partner, however, this completely disregards the fact that Russia’s strategic goal is not partnership with NATO but its demise.

Chasing after Russia’s participation in the NATO Summit in Lisbon, the Alliance issued a public invitation to Medvedev at a specially convened NATO-Russia Council in New York in September (NATO press release, September 22, 2010; http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-775CABC7-0C734261/natolive/news_66401.htm). But Medvedev’s acceptance did not arrive until October, after Merkel and Sarkozy had agreed with him about the summit’s agenda. This all happened during the three-way meeting in Deauville, where Germany and France wooed Russia with the prospect of also securing a special role in EU security and foreign policy decisions (EDM, October 22). Rasmussen and the US Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, announced an impending “breakthrough” at the Lisbon summit involving NATO’s future role and NATO-Russia relations. Ambassador Daalder said, “Be prepared for NATO version 3.0” (http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/10/29/get_ready_for_nato_30). Rasmussen as well as Germany’s Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, discussed the new NATO version directly with Moscow.

The Russians want –in return for their cooperation with NATO–a veto over NATO’s deployment of troops on the territories of NATO member countries in Central-Eastern Europe. Moscow wants NATO to be bound not to station more than 3,000 troops (one brigade) in the aforementioned countries, which it regards as a sphere of its privileged interests. If during a time of crisis more troops were to be required, then Russia’s prior consent would be mandatory (EDM, October 22). In other words, if Russia were to attack or threaten to attack Latvia, for example, then for NATO to send its troops to defend Latvia would require Moscow’s permission. One question is, “what will Russia give in return?” A Russian diplomat stated on October 27, “Russia should not increase its obligations at all, since it is NATO that is expanding and threatening Russia, not the other way around” (Kommersant, October 27).

NATO, of course, says it has not accepted these proposals. A joint-communiqué was planned concerning joint policies on Afghanistan. Also, the idea has been mooted of “strengthening” the NATO-Russia Council, and Rasmussen has committed himself to announcing a breakthrough in NATO-Russian relations. It is clear that the West has not learned since 2008. It is still talking diplomatically about “agreeing not to agree” or “no taboos in the dialogue.” Russia, however, is talking about trade-offs in an old imperial spirit. Therefore, are the Crown Jewels being offered in return for chicken feed?