NATO officials have recently once again attempted to bridge differences with Russia in the run-up to the November NATO summit in Lisbon. President, Dmitry Medvedev, was invited to Lisbon for a parallel NATO-Russian Council summit. NATO’s Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, during an interview to Interfax and Novaya Gazeta stressed the maturity of the NATO-Russian partnership, cooperation in fighting terrorism, drugs trafficking, supporting the effort to stabilize Afghanistan and other issues. Rasmussen believes there is no longer any need for mutual nuclear deterrence “since we are partners,” while defense budgets may be drastically cut and spent on welfare. According to Rasmussen, in Lisbon the leaders of the 28 NATO countries should invite Russia to take part in a project to create a joint ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Europe –a mutually important military task that may unite Russia with the Alliance (Interfax, September 21).
During a visit to Tbilisi last week, Rasmussen stated that NATO is still open to Georgia which aspires to become a member in defiance of Moscow. Rasmussen praised Georgian military contributions in Afghanistan, while at the same time expressing a “clear intention” to improve ties with Moscow, “leading, hopefully, to true strategic partnership.” According to Rasmussen, “If we succeed in developing true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia, then it will also improve Georgia’s security situation” (Civil Georgia, October 1).
For Georgians living under a constant threat of resumed hostilities by Russian troops stationed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the abrupt war in August 2008, Rasmussen’s visit was an important event marked by his statement assuring “that NATO stands firm in our commitment to Georgia” (Civil Georgia, October 1). While NATO’s Secretary General was in Tbilisi, a high-ranking German diplomat told Jamestown that “Rasmussen’s visit is an empty gesture that must not trouble Moscow, while the coming Lisbon NATO-Russia summit may indeed bring important results.” This opinion seems to be confirmed by NATO officialdom. This week the Alliance’s spokesman, James Appathurai, stated in Brussels during a video-link press conference with Moscow that “Georgia will spend years to qualify to become a NATO member”, similar to the message that Rasmussen delivered in Tbilisi. Appathurai confirmed that in Lisbon, Russia will receive new proposals about a joint BMD (Interfax, October 4).
The idea to eternally erase all the vestiges of East-West confrontation by first building a “strategic partnership,” and then possibly inviting Russia to join the Alliance, is popular in the West. It was strengthened last month by a report written for the Kremlin by the Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR) –a liberal think-tank supported by Medvedev– calling for Russia to link up to NATO politically and “institutionally” (Komsomolskaya Pravda, September 3). The US permanent representative at NATO headquarters, Ivo Daalder, recently confirmed that Moscow has the basic right to apply for NATO membership, though this is not discussed at present. Daalder stressed the existing important cooperation between Russia and NATO in fighting drug trafficking and on Afghanistan among areas of cooperation. Daalder was immediately rebuffed by General Nikolai Bordyuzha –the Secretary General of the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – who called the proposal for future NATO membership “an absurd fantasy.” According to Bordyuzha, Moscow does not need NATO, since it already has the CSTO (RIA Novosti, September 22).
Russia’s permanent envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said there would be no sense in Russia joining the Alliance as it “must keep its national identity and sovereignty” (RIA Novosti, September 10). The Chief of the General Staff and First Deputy Defense Minister, Army-General Nikolai Makarov told Russian TV neither the Russian military nor the Russian people are ready to join NATO, “because our tasks and goals are different” (Interfax, September 27). The Russian permanent representative in the UN, Vitaly Churkin, accused NATO forces in Afghanistan of “immorally” doing virtually nothing to fight the narcotics trade and production (RIA Novosti, September 29).
A mental aberration still lingers in the West regarding the objective profound difference in the strategic intent of the “tasks and goals” between the present Russian rulers and the West. This may somehow be overcome in one outburst of total friendliness during a grand summit. There is a belief that more PR prodding may eventually change the Russian people’s hostile attitude towards NATO. The last Cold War ice may somehow melt and all will be just fine. But the Russian people are constantly influenced by a vicious propaganda machine, while Russia remains an authoritarian state where the people do not decide anything, where elections are still permitted but are shamelessly rigged.
Washington and Brussels have recently sought a possible understanding on the reincarnation of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty that limits conventional weapons in Europe (Moscow abrogated it in 2007), hoping to increase military trust, transparency and predictability. Of course, Russian Defense Minister, Anatoliy Serdyukov, flatly rejected the idea to return to the existing CFE stating that “we will wait for something new that we may accept” (RIA Novosti, September 17). In December 2007, Moscow left the CFE treaty in time to begin secretly preparing its forces for a sudden massive invasion of Georgia unhindered by any possible onsite inspections. While possible military action is contemplated in the South Caucasus or may be other parts of the former USSR, Russia will not agree to any enhanced military transparency or other serious limitations.
Politically the joint BMD shield in Europe sounds fine, but is practically unfeasible. Building a BMD system that is governed by a joint council in Moscow or Brussels would prove to be a senseless waste of money. If a European BMD ever comes into action, the launch of interceptors would be ordered by computers –with no time for any council meetings with or without Russia. In Moscow, the forthcoming Lisbon BMD invitation is seen as a hoax, as another false rhetorical gesture by the rhetoric-prone Rasmussen. Instead of decreasing suspicion, it might only cause more.