Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 193

The Russian government will apparently not use the recent change of leadership at NATO headquarters in Brussels as an opportunity to improve long-strained relations with the Western alliance. Former British Defense Secretary George Robertson officially assumed the post of NATO Secretary General on October 14. He replaced Javier Solana, a former Spanish foreign minister who is moving over to take up a new post as foreign policy coordinator of the European Union. Solana played a crucial role in overseeing both the first round of NATO’s enlargement and the alliance’s air war against Yugoslavia. Both of those policies were hotly opposed by Moscow, and Solana was one of several Western leaders accused by Russian legislators of war crimes for his role in the Balkan air campaign. The Russian government broke off relations with NATO following the start of the air campaign, and even since the conclusion of hostilities has pointedly limited cooperation only to the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

Under such circumstances, Moscow might have used Robertson’s appointment as an opportunity to mend fences with the Western alliance. The new secretary general did his part, making clear in statements just before and after his assumption of the NATO duties that he will put a high priority on the resumption of cooperative relations with Russia. During a biannual NATO-Japanese conference on October 15, for example, Robertson was quoted as saying that NATO and Russia are “destined to cooperate,” and that a constructive relationship of the same sort is “clearly in the interest of Japan as well.”

But Robertson has also underscored continuities in NATO’s policy toward Moscow which have probably been heard with some displeasure in the Russian capital. Among other things, Robertson said that another of his top priorities would be to oversee a continuation of the enlargement process. Moscow opposes that, and has warned of especially dire consequences in the event that NATO moves to incorporate states of the former Soviet Union. Robertson also reiterated that a 1997 cooperative agreement between Russia and the alliance–the Russia-NATO Founding Act–confers on Moscow no veto power over NATO actions. Russian officials continue to depict the NATO air war as an abrogation of the Russia-NATO partnership agreement, and have suggested that they will resuscitate full-fledged cooperation with the alliance only if Russia is given a stronger voice in NATO affairs. That suggests Moscow is demanding a veto right, an issue which is likely to remain a point of irritation between NATO and the Russian government.

In his remarks during the NATO-Japan conference, moreover, Robertson made an observation which is sure to grate in Moscow. In prefacing his call for renewed Russian-NATO cooperation, the new secretary general said that the Kosovo conflict had proved that “even if Russia may sometimes appear to be part of the problem, it can also be made part of the solution. Western firmness, coupled with the willingness to keep the door open for a constructive Russian role,” Robertson said, “has paid off” (Kyodo, October 15-16; M2 Communications, Lietuvos Rytas’ web site, October 15).

This interpretation of the events surrounding the Kosovo crisis jives with Moscow’s, but puts things in a far more positive light than would many Russians. In Moscow, NATO’s Balkan diplomacy is seen by many as a successful attempt to steamroll Russia into abetting the alliance’s efforts to intimidate and then to destroy the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, a Russian ally. Russian hardliners in the military and elsewhere denounced the “mediation” role played by Russian diplomats (and of then Balkans special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin in particular) as a sellout of Russian and Serbian interests. Apparently as a result, at least in part, of these developments in the Balkans, and of more recent developments in the Russian Caucasus, these same military hardliners appear to be enjoying a resurgence of political influence in Moscow. They are said by many to be driving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s aggressive policies in Chechnya, and are likely also a factor in the continuing hardline position that Moscow is taking with regard to Russian-NATO cooperation.

The assertiveness championed by military leaders is also reflected in a draft military doctrine recently approved by the Russian Defense Ministry. The document is strongly anti-Western and, among other things, resuscitates traditional Soviet warnings of a security threat from the West (see Monitor, October 12). This same sort of mentality was apparently reflected in remarks delivered by one of the men involved in drafting the Russian military doctrine–General Valery Manilov–during a conference held in London earlier this week. The first deputy chief of the Russian General Staff described the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia as a watershed event in European history. He argued that NATO’s claim of a right to launch military actions outside of its own territory threatens to bring about “an international global catastrophe.” As a corrective measure, Manilov repeated Moscow’s standard call for a restructuring of the European security environment so as to lessen the influence of the United States in Europe while simultaneously building a more purely European security system on the continent (Itar-Tass, October 18).