Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 8 Issue: 5

Negotiations between Russia and the NATO military alliance on a new cooperation agreement have been similarly muddy. The two sides announced after a fresh round of talks on February 27 that they had made some progress in this area, but the vagueness of their joint statement suggested that substantive differences of opinion remain. At issue is a British initiative first offered last November–with the apparent support of the Bush administration–that would have given Russia a limited but still significant voice in alliance affairs through the creation of a new NATO-Russia council. At the reported behest of Pentagon leaders, however, that original proposal has since been weakened. The two sides are still discussing the creation of a new NATO-Russia council, one on which Russia would sit as an equal member with other NATO countries. But the new council’s agenda would be limited to issues such as the control of arms proliferation, fighting terrorism and the conduct of rescue and peacekeeping missions, while safeguards would be erected to ensure that Moscow gains no undue influence over core NATO activities.

The question is whether this will be enough to satisfy the Kremlin. Putin has faced criticism at home for his support of the United States in the initial phase of its antiterror war and for his turn to the West more generally, and many in Russia believe that he needs to get some tangible concessions from NATO in return. Most observers also believe that the promise of greater NATO-Russia cooperation has been offered to Moscow in order to take the edge off of alliance plans to expand further–including, possibly, into the three former Soviet Baltic states–at this November’s summit meeting in Prague. An economically and politically weakened Russia is in no position to thwart NATO’s expansion agenda, but European leaders in particular had hoped that it might be accomplished without alienating Russia or weakening Putin. How successful the alliance has been in this endeavor should become clearer by the time NATO foreign ministers meet in Reykjavik this May. The two sides hope to have a new NATO-Russia cooperation agreement in place by that time.