Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 105

The U.S.-Russia and NATO-Russia summits, held on May 24-28, are not affecting the present stage of NATO’s enlargement one way or the other. Earlier suppositions that Russia could use its enhanced relationship within NATO to slow down the enlargement are not being borne out. Neither, however, is the expectation that Russia’s new status in the NATO-Russia Council would help remove Moscow’s remaining objections to the alliance’s Baltic enlargement. The Kremlin maintains some residual objections, apparently hoping to use them as bargaining chips.

President Vladimir Putin had already signaled during his August 2001 visit to Finland that he had realized the futility of trying to stop NATO from inviting the three Baltic states into the alliance (see the Monitor, August 27, 31, September 6, 2001). It was at that point that he shifted gears, having apparently decided to try to influence the terms on which NATO’s Baltic enlargement would take place, rather than fight the inevitable, and gain nothing for doing so. Putin’s change of tactics foreshadowed his conduct post-September 11, when he initially tried hard to prevent the deployment of U.S. forces to Central Asia.

By now, Moscow fully expects that NATO’s Prague summit in November will result in invitations to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to commence the accession process. The Kremlin will seek to use the remaining time to attempt to set limits on NATO’s latitude to maintain a military presence in the Baltic states, once they become members. That seems to be the message in Moscow’s latest statements, timed to the two summits. Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov on May 20, the Defense Ministry officials in parliamentary hearings on May 23, Foreign Affairs Ministry chief spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on May 27-28, and the first deputy chief of staff, General Yury Baluevsky on May 28 all rehashed some familiar objections, mainly of a military and technical nature, using low-key language in what seems a negotiating gambit. Moscow, however, hardly has a quid-pro-quo to offer in any such negotiations.

The Russian side wants the three Baltic states to become parties to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and the agreement on the adaptation of that treaty. It also apparently seeks pledges that NATO will neither maintain permanent military bases in the Baltic states nor deploy nuclear weapons there. Baluevsky used the inauguration of NATO’s liaison mission in Moscow as the occasion for his statement. Apart from these military issues, Russian officials continue to pose demands related to the status of the “Russian-speaking population,” especially in Latvia, but the phrasing of such requests has become notably more subdued. Latvia’s and Estonia’s integration policies, as well as the clean bill of health from Western democracies and international institutions, seems finally to have made it very difficult for Moscow to use this issue without damaging its own credibility.

On May 28, during the NATO-Russia summit, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that resistance to NATO’s Baltic enlargement “has been the Russian position for some time, but, as we’ve discussed with the Russians quite candidly, Russia cannot have a veto. We have succeeded in making the enlargement once again less of an irritant in our relations. Russia knows that these invitations will be extended at Prague.” That same day, at a plenary session in Sofia, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly called on the allied heads of state and government to issue membership invitations to the three Baltic states, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria this coming November at the Prague summit.

All the invited countries should then sit on the NATO-Russia council as a matter of course. Meanwhile, they are reacting positively and confidently to the formation of the NATO-Russia Council. Statements by the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian government leaders and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministries converge on the following points. First, any improvement in NATO-Russia relations helps improve also the Russia-Baltic relations. Second, the NATO-Russia Council and NATO’s enlargement process are wholly distinct from one another. Third, the Baltic states’ own efforts to meet NATO admission requirements have placed their candidacies firmly on track. Fourth, the three states are already planning their post-Prague and post-accession efforts to live up to NATO standards. And, fifth, they have every interest in developing goodneighborly relations with Russia, and better chances to do so once officially invited to join NATO (BNS, NATO releases, Interfax, RIA, May 23-29; see the Monitor, May 2-3, 21, 28-29).