Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 152

Russia offered little more than a cautious welcome yesterday to the appointment of British Defense Secretary George Robertson as NATO’s new secretary general. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin chose to emphasize that relations with the Western alliance remain troubled, and said that Moscow will judge Robertson–and NATO–“by its concrete actions.” Rakhmanin and other diplomatic and military officials did welcome Robertson’s statement, made upon learning of his appointment, that he would try to improve NATO-Russian relations. But Moscow responded with irritation to what Robertson described as one of his main priorities: overseeing the alliance’s further enlargement. Russia strenuously opposed NATO’s decision to admit three new members earlier this year, and will undoubtedly exert just as much energy to stop any further enlargement.

More generally, Russian officials used Robertson’s appointment as an excuse to restate the conditions under which the Russian government will consider rebuilding its ties to NATO. According to Rakhmanin, Moscow “primarily wants that the Yugoslav tragedy… never be repeated, that new dividing lines not be drawn in Europe as a result of… [NATO’s] enlargement plans, [and] that the alliance fully takes into account [Russia’s] lawful interests and concerns and strictly follows the provisions of the Russia-NATO founding act” (Reuters, Russian agencies, August 5).

Boiled down, Rakhmanin’s remarks refer to Russia’s oft-stated demands that NATO forgo enlargement and agree never again to use military force outside of NATO territory without authorization from Moscow and the UN Security Council. The first of those demands contradicts NATO’s enlargement policy, while the first and second together contradict NATO’s policy of granting Moscow–through the NATO-Russia founding act–a “voice but no veto” in alliance affairs. Moscow’s second demand, moreover, also contradicts a still emerging and controversial NATO policy which would allow the alliance, under extreme conditions, to act militarily outside of its territory without UN authorization. Yugoslavia represented a first application of that policy, and it remains unclear whether the NATO military and peacekeeping operations there will ultimately confirm the alliance’s readiness to operate outside of its territory, or whether it will have the opposite effect.

In another move aimed at demonstrating its intention to keep relations with NATO “frozen,” the Russian Defense Ministry announced yesterday that it is boycotting the “Peace Shield-99” military exercises just getting underway in Ukraine. Defense Ministry officials attributed Russia’s absence at the multinational exercises to the fact that they are being conducted under the auspices of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace” program. The Defense Ministry appeared also to underscore its determination to avoid contact with the British and U.S. troops taking part in the exercise on the basis of London’s and Washington’s role in the NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia (Russian agencies, August 5).

To date, Russia has “unfrozen” its relations with NATO only with regard to cooperation in the Kosovo peacekeeping mission. Although Russian political leaders and diplomats have recently gone out of their way to mend fences with the West–and with the United States (see below) and Britain in particular–that effort at reconciliation has apparently not yet extended into the area of military cooperation. In this context, it may be noteworthy that Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen earlier this week postponed a meeting which would have been their first since the beginning of the Kosovo conflict. Few details were available, but a Russian source suggested that Sergeev was responsible for the postponement (Reuters, Russian agencies, August 2; Vremya MN, August 3).