Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 34

Hardline Russian military leaders, however, had repeatedly suggested that any reconciliation between Moscow and NATO could come only if NATO met several key Russian conditions. Boiled down, those appeared to involve a Western willingness to accommodate Russian (and Serbian) demands in Kosovo, and a reworking of the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act to give Russia a greater say in alliance and European security affairs. Indeed, some Russian military leaders have suggested that the 1997 Founding Act–the document which officially regulates Russia-NATO relations–should be thrown out and a new agreement negotiated.

This sort of intransigence from the now dominant hardline leadership of the armed forces resurfaced as momentum toward a Robertson visit to Moscow appeared to build. It was probably behind news reports which appeared on February 8 indicating that Moscow was likely to scuttle the Robertson visit because the NATO leader had allegedly failed to go far enough in meeting Moscow’s demands (Reuters, Russian agencies, February 8; see the Monitor, February 9).

An even more obvious dissonance between the Russian Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry appeared publicly in the days immediately preceding Robertson’s arrival in the Russian capital. On February 11 Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said while visiting Tokyo that he still expected to meet with Robertson on February 16. On the same day, however, a top Russian General Staff officer–General Valery Manilov–told Itar-Tass flat-out that the Robertson visit had been postponed. A day earlier, moreover, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the most notorious of the Defense Ministry’s hawks, suggested that NATO had still not moved far enough to satisfy Moscow’s demands for a greater voice in European security decisions. He also unleashed a fresh attack on NATO’s enlargement plans, describing them as a step toward “Cold War and confrontation,” and warning that NATO actions are leading to “the militarization of Europe, [and] the expansion of attempts to interfere in the domestic affairs of sovereign states and manifest military force” (Russian agencies, February 10).

Intensive negotiations between Russia and NATO apparently continued right up to the day of Robertson’s arrival in Moscow. One Russian source suggested as late as February 14 that the visit had come within a “hair’s breadth” of being postponed. Other reports the same day said that, while arrangements for talks between Robertson and both Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev had been arranged, plans had still not been finalized for a meeting between Robertson and Putin. Whether that meeting would be held, the sources suggested, would depend on the results of the earlier talks.

Eleventh-hour negotiations between Russia and NATO apparently centered on the content of the joint statement to be issued at the close of Robertson’s visit. According to one Russian commentary (based on “military-diplomatic” sources), Moscow was continuing to insist even on February 14 that the statement contain a provision granting Russia equal participation rights in NATO decisionmaking. That this was the Russian negotiating position was said to have been confirmed by Ivashov (Itar-Tass, Reuters, Russian agencies, February 14).

On the basis of statements Robertson made yesterday, it appears to have been Putin who stepped in and ensured that the talks took place. “Mr. Putin is the acting president of Russia and he made it clear that the resumption of the relationship between Russia and NATO was very much a decision of his,” Robertson told reporters (Reuters, February 16). It seems possible that Putin ordered the military to line up behind the Russia-NATO talks during a meeting with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on February 15. Although not generally viewed as a hardliner himself, Sergeev has nevertheless at times joined enthusiastically in the invective heaped on NATO by Russian military leaders over the past year. Following his meeting with Putin, however, Sergeev was quoted as saying that the “time is coming, probably, not to argue but to find possibilities to bring our paths closer together” (Reuters, February 15).

It is perhaps worth nothing that while Sergeev, Ivanov, presidential foreign policy advisor Sergei Prikhodko and presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky were involved in yesterday’s talks with Robertson, the military leadership’s most high-profile hardliners–Ivashov, Manilov and General Staff Chief Anatoly Kvashnin–were apparently not represented. Their absence may suggest an effort by Putin to sideline those military leaders who many believe are most responsible for the Kremlin’s “victorious” war in Chechnya, and thus for Putin’s own political popularity.