Unofficially, Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that he will not attend the NATO summit in Istanbul on June 28-29. NATO spokesman James Appathurai said several days ago that “discussions are still ongoing with Moscow, and the alliance has not been officially notified whether Putin would attend.” But, according to the spokesman, “Putin judged that there was not enough in it for him to come” (Reuters, June 2).
Discussions with Russia on NATO concessions in return for Putin’s attendance had been underway for some months, and intensified as the summit date drew closer. On May 17 in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer indicated in a speech, “I told President Putin that I hope the conditions will be right for him to come to Istanbul” (NATO press release, May 17).
It is unclear what conditions were under discussion. Likewise, it is unknown what would have persuaded Putin to attend, given the comment that there is not expected to be enough substance to the summit to induce his attendance. Two concessions had been hinted: enhancing Russia’s role in NATO decision-making through the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), and conceding unilateral advantages to Russia through violation or selective implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) and Istanbul Commitments on the Baltic and southern flanks.
Sergei Rogov, director of the USA Institute and an influential policy adviser, outlined Moscow’s short- and medium-term goals with respect to NRC in an unusually public forum. In a May 27 interview, Rogov recommended that NATO’s character as a “defensive military alliance” is diluted through Russia’s inclusion in the alliance’s decision-making processes via NRC. As an early first step, Moscow and NATO would proceed within NRC to develop three baskets of issues: one basket on which Russia would enjoy the same decision-making rights, including veto rights, as does each NATO member country; another basket of issues on which NATO “must consult Russia, which will voice its opinion,” before NATO makes a decision; and a third group of issues, on which NATO will decide without Russia.
Rogov described the current situation as involving two baskets: a very large one in which NATO makes decisions without Russia, and a very small basket under the aegis of NRC, in which consultations are held but decisions are not made. Consequently, Moscow should “speedily” initiate the creation of the three baskets through NRC. This would lead to “associated membership of Russia in NATO.” He recommended that these arrangements be put in place “before [NATO’s] third enlargement round. If we succeed, NATO’s expansion will become a completely different thing.” Rogov described Russia’s associated membership as an interim stage toward the final goal of changing NATO’s character from “wolf” to “vegetarian” by having it evolve from a “defensive military alliance” to a “collective security alliance” that includes Russia as a member (Tribuna, May 27).
When NATO officials indicated that Putin would probably not attend the summit, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov reacted on the same day (June 2) by stressing the importance that Moscow attaches to enhancing its role in NRC. Lavrov stressed that Russia had not declined the invitation to attend the NRC meeting in Istanbul. “When we receive an invitation which indicates the level of Russia’s participation in the NRC meeting, we will think about it, take a decision and answer the invitation promptly.” (Interfax, June 2)
Regarding the 1999-adapted CFE Treaty and associated Istanbul Commitments – also signed in 1999 in a package with CFE — Moscow wanted the NATO summit to: call for treaty ratification and bring the three Baltic states under its purview, so as to restrict allied defensive deployments in the Baltics; tolerate Russia’s breaches of the CFE Treaty on the southern flank; and tacitly allow Russia to keep its forces in Georgia and Moldova, in breach of the Istanbul Commitments. From 1999 to date, NATO members have collectively maintained that allied ratification of the CFE Treaty and Russian fulfillment of the Istanbul Commitments are inseparably linked. Moscow wants NATO to de-link these two issues, thus conceding to Russia on both flanks.
Some influential West European governments now tend to favor ratification of the treaty without insisting on full or timely compliance with the Istanbul Commitments. Thus, the linkage has been weakened in the run-up to the NATO summit. Separating the two issues, and also decoupling Moldova from Georgia in the Commitments package, could have been the price — or part of the price — required for Putin to appear at the summit. Russian diplomacy sought a solution along these lines. At the same time, Berlin and Paris began to pressure Moldova and Georgia to accept Russian breaches of the Commitments. The Germans and French took these steps, as a matter of individual, not allied policy. But their steps reflected and affected the alliance’s overall stance as well.
In trying to convince Putin to attend the summit, de Hoop Scheffer seemed to signal a readiness for some concessions. Rather than insisting on the linkage policy, the NATO secretary-general stressed that this is “one of the most difficult subjects,” one needing “a just solution.” And in stating publicly that Russia should withdraw its ammunition stockpiles from Moldova, he neglected to mention Russia’s Istanbul Commitment to withdraw troops (interview with Ekho Moskvy, April 8; NATO press release, May 17). For its part, Washington continues to call for maintaining the integrity of both sets of documents and the linkage between the two issues.
It now appears that Putin did not receive satisfaction in discussions ahead of the NATO summit — at least not to the extent that he may have expected — on either the NRC or CFE issues. It is the second consecutive NATO summit that he declined to attend, the first being the November 2002 Prague summit. It is difficult to identify serious tangible benefits accruing to the alliance from Putin’s attendance at the summit. At the same time, the quid pro quos that Moscow sought for his attendance would have been detrimental to the alliance interests on both flanks.