Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 142

The clash of perceptions between Russia and NATO over the “lessons” of Kosovo is not merely academic, but is influencing the manner in which Moscow attempts to negotiate its “reconciliation” with NATO. Russian leaders have repeatedly called NATO a criminal organization for its actions in Yugoslavia and charged that the air campaign risked a broader war in the Balkans. Russian officials have also argued that, by launching the airstrikes against Yugoslavia without Moscow’s consent, NATO violated the NATO-Russia Final Act and is thus responsible for the rupture in relations that subsequently took place between the two sides.

This sort of logic clearly underlay Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov’s remarks on the subject yesterday. He said that Russia and NATO would have to learn how to avoid “unexpected developments in the future when one of the parties takes steps which seriously aggravate the situation in Europe and the world.” This could be done, he suggested, by ruling out actions by one side that would be a “surprise” for the other side (Russian agencies, July 22). In fact, however, NATO’s decision to launch the air campaign against Yugoslavia was not a “surprise” to Moscow. The alliance had warned repeatedly over a long time that military reprisals would be forthcoming if Belgrade did not withdraw its military and police forces from Kosovo. The “surprise” may be that NATO took so long to act.

What Moscow really wants, of course, is a veto power over NATO actions. This would presumably be exercised through the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council. At the time NATO entered into that partnership relationship with Moscow–in early 1997–alliance leaders insisted that the council would confer on Russia a “voice but no veto” in NATO affairs. It appears that this battle for influence over NATO policy is about to be replayed once again, this time in the shadow of the Kosovo conflict.

The opening moves in this battle could begin as early as today. Sources in London and Brussels suggested yesterday that a meeting of the Permanent Joint Council–the first since the beginning of NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia–is to be convened today. The meeting had originally been scheduled for this past Tuesday, but was canceled at the last minute without explanation (see Monitor, July 21). Today’s agenda will reportedly be limited solely to questions involving Russian-NATO cooperation in the Kosovo peacekeeping mission (Russian agencies, July 22).