Russian President Vladimir Putin turned down NATO’s invitation to attend the alliance’s recent Istanbul summit. A series of insistent, public entreaties proved counterproductive, tempting the Kremlin to ask a high political price for Putin’s attendance. He wanted NATO to call for ratification of the 1999-adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) and for placing the three Baltic states under CFE restrictions, despite Russia’s massive noncompliance with that same treaty on the southern flank and its repudiation of the 1999 Istanbul Commitments, which require the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia and Moldova in a package with the adapted CFE Treaty. The Kremlin also sought an enhanced role for the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) as a means of gaining entry into NATO decision-making processes. Although some allies seemed inclined to concede on some points, NATO as a whole stood firm in the end. Thus Putin decided shortly before the summit to stay away from the event.
Representing Russia at the NATO summit, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov made his entrance with a calculated snub: “Invitations to all kinds of events are regularly being delivered to Moscow, but one can’t attend every event; the commitments are many, and President Putin is really very busy with other commitments these days,” Lavrov told journalists in Istanbul (Itar-Tass, RIA, June 28).
As part of Russia’s recurrent proposals to dilute NATO and erode trans-Atlantic ties, Lavrov wanted the NATO-Russia Council to consider steps toward creating “a common European security space by transforming NATO from a predominantly military into a predominantly political organization, developing the European Union’s defense forces, and substantially deepening cooperation with Russia” (RIA, June 25). Such suggestions appeared designed for use in the NRC to induce differences among allies, were the NRC to put those suggestions on its agenda.
Held at the level of foreign affairs ministers (rather than of presidents), the NRC session focused on Afghanistan, Iraq, and peacekeeping issues. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer used the occasion not only in the closed-door session, but also publicly to reaffirm the linkage between CFE ratification by NATO countries and fulfillment of the Istanbul commitments by Russia (Opening Statement, June 28). The summit’s final communique reinforced this point (Communique by the Heads of State and Government, June 28).
However, Russia denies that it has made commitments to withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova (this denial has been official Russian policy since 2002). At the NATO summit, Lavrov simply reaffirmed the policy of seeking agreement with Georgia on the status and functioning of Russian military bases in that country. Regarding Moldova, Lavrov reduced the issue to one of removing only ammunition, not the troops; and even the removal of ammunition he made conditional on acceptance of a Russian-drafted settlement of the Trans-Dniester conflict (Interval, June 28-29).
On Iraq, Lavrov proposed a general conference with the participation of Iraqi political forces — including, he stressed, “all” opposition forces, “including those representing armed resistance to the occupation” — as well as Iraq’s neighboring countries and the international community, including Russia (Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, June 28-29). The initiative is clearly designed to insert players and interests countervailing the U.S.-led coalition in shaping the future of Iraq.
Regarding Afghanistan, Lavrov cited Russia’s and the Central Asian countries’ interest in suppressing terrorism as an argument for “establishing ties” and “developing cooperation” between NATO and the Russian-dominated CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). This argument is only the latest in Moscow’s decade-old quest for international recognition of the CIS-CSTO (a quest that recalls the earlier one for NATO recognition of the Warsaw Pact). The goal is to cast Moscow as a bloc leader in Eurasia, lend substance to a notional sphere of Russian influence, and enable Moscow to speak to the West on behalf of CSTO member countries, instead of allowing the latter unrestricted latitude to develop security ties with the West.
NATO never took any steps that could be construed as recognition of the Warsaw Pact or the CIS-CSTO. Only the notoriously weak Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2002 (under a hapless Portuguese chairmanship) and in 2003 (under de Hoop Scheffer’s chairmanship) took such a step by inviting the CIS CSTO Secretary-General to address the OSCE’s year-end ministerial meetings.
At NATO’s Istanbul summit, Lavrov came out of the NRC session to say that the Secretaries-General of NATO and CIS-CSTO, de Hoop Scheffer and Nikolai Burdyuzha, would soon meet to discuss Afghanistan and related issues (Itar-Tass, June 28). Possibly, the Russian minister was trying to pin down NATO’s leader on a position that the latter had not necessarily taken. In any case, NATO has no discernible reason to depart from the time-honored Western policy of non-recognition of a Russian sphere of influence generally, and of CIS-CSTO specifically.