Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 56

After a break of nearly a year, Russia and NATO last week officially resumed regular meetings of the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council. The March 15 sitting, held at the ambassador level, was the first since NATO Secretary General George Robertson’s groundbreaking visit to Moscow last month (see the Monitor, February 17). Russia broke off relations with NATO in March 1999 following the start of the Western alliance’s air campaign against Yugoslavia. In July of last year Russia and NATO did resume meetings of the Permanent Joint Council, but, at Russia’s insistence, those sessions dealt only with the joint NATO-Russian peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. The Russian government–and military hardliners in particular–insisted until Robertson’s visit that relations with NATO remain “frozen” at this level. While in Moscow Robertson suggested that Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin had finally reined in the recalcitrant generals so as to pursue a broader policy of reconciliation with the West.

Despite the new era of good will, Russian sources suggested earlier last week that the two sides had encountered some trouble even in deciding on an agenda for the March 15 meeting. NATO officials reportedly wanted the talks to include discussion of Russia’s recently approved security doctrine. Moscow, in turn, apparently wanted to discuss arms control. The apparent compromise was to include both topics in a broader discussion agenda. The question of security doctrines has emerged as a key issue in Russia-NATO relations. Russia has vigorously opposed the new NATO security doctrine approved last year which leaves open the possibility that NATO forces could again, as they did in Yugoslavia, operate outside of NATO territory without the approval of the UN Security Council. NATO, in turn, has expressed concern over a recently approved Russian national security concept which is stridently anti-Western in tone and which lowers the threshold for use by Moscow of nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, few details of the March 15 meeting were made public. Reports focused instead on the fact that the two sides were at least talking again. Russia was represented at the Joint Council meeting by Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, who had been recalled to Moscow last year following the start of the NATO air strikes. A NATO communique also made it clear that the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo had been a key topic of discussion on March 15. It said that the two sides had “reiterated their determination to cooperate closely in all areas, including the protection of Kosovo’s minorities.” The communique also underlined the “international community’s” unwillingness to “tolerate provocation and other attempts to undermine the peace process” in Kosovo. Reports said that the Permanent Joint Council will meet again next month, but provided no indication as to what the agenda might be at that time (Reuters, Russian agencies, March 16).