Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 133

For the time being at least, Russia’s participation in the Kosovo peacekeeping force will apparently be the main form of cooperation between Moscow and the Western alliance. In the wake of NATO’s decision this past March to launch airstrikes against Kosovo, Russia moved to sever all its ties to the alliance. Moscow withdrew its liaison officers from NATO headquarters in Brussels and discontinued its participation in the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council–the primary institutional vehicle for cooperation between Russia and NATO. With the end of the NATO airstrikes and the imposition of a peace settlement on Baghdad, Russian government officials have begun to discuss issues related to rebuilding relations with NATO. But that will apparently be a slow process. Moscow did dispatch a military delegation to Brussels nearly two weeks ago, but Russian officials made clear that its mission was limited to discussions of the Kosovo peacekeeping mission and not to questions of broader cooperation.

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev suggested anew on July 9 that Moscow is in no hurry to resuscitate ties with NATO. The Russian defense chief confirmed to reporters that Russia had yet to rejoin the Permanent Joint Council. More important, he suggested that Moscow would refuse to do so until the alliance met several conditions. One of them was to abstain from acting in future conflicts without the consent of the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Another was to ensure that the Permanent Joint Council is “transformed from a decorative to a constructive agency” (AP, Russian agencies, July 9).

That last reference apparently refers to Moscow’s demand that the alliance commit to consult with Moscow over decisions related to European security, and not merely to inform Russia of decisions that have been taken. The alliance is unlikely to agree to either of these conditions, neither of which is new. The first would give the UN veto power over NATO decisions to use force outside the territory of NATO member states, a condition that NATO’s new strategic concept seeks to avoid. The second demand is presumably intended to give Moscow–via the Permanent Joint Council–a similar veto power over NATO decisions. Since the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council was established in May of 1997, NATO officials have repeatedly insisted that it gives Moscow a “voice but not a veto” in NATO affairs.

Sergeev’s comments follow admonitions last week from Russian President Boris Yeltsin to the effect that Russian military leaders should take a “middle road” in their dealings with NATO, avoiding both confrontation and uncritical friendship (see the Monitor, July 9). Uncritical friendship on the part of the Russian military leadership seems, in any event, unlikely. Yeltsin was clearly trying to rein in the belligerence toward NATO which has been displayed of late by several prominent military leaders. He probably also fears that some in the military leadership might look at the Kosovo operation as an opportunity to both confront NATO and bluntly push Russian interests in the Balkans.