Mid-Term Perspectives

imagesDuring the Cold War period, relations alongside of the ‘NATO – Warsaw Pact’ axis has composed the main line of confrontation of the two global strategic antagonists: the USA and the USSR. Washington and Moscow has considered these two blocks, controlled by them, as politically important structures, which ensure their dominance over foreign and security policy of allies and needed level of political support for USA and USSR’s ambitions to play global leaders’ role. At the same time, their military strategies have been firmly based on national armed forces, which used armies of allies as a complimentary resource for their efforts to provide security for “socialist” and “democratic” blocks respectively. This clear and transparent model of relationship has already disappeared and we still waiting for something new and stable instead of the Cold War bipolar model of European security.

History of relations

Following the breakdown of the Warsaw Pact and USSR, Russian Federation for about ten years (1991-2001) has been conducting a “low profile” policy towards the NATO, and USA as the Alliance leader. Since the 9.11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., Russia’s involvement into global security debates has become more active. Genuine attempts to establish full-fledged partnership and to become NATO member (1992, 2001) has been followed by periods of curtailing relations and openly hostile rhetoric between Russia and NATO (Kosovo Conflict in 1999, Georgia’s invasion into South Ossetia in 2008). Altogether, relations between Moscow and Brussels have always been characterized by lack of trust and demonization of opponent in political discourse and media.

The NATO has always been at the center of Russian internal debates on foreign policy strategy and international relations’ priorities. In the period after 1991, Russian “traditionalists” have seen any action and even any intention of the Alliance as direct threat to sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russian Federation. «Liberals» have been considering relations with the NATO as the most important indicator of ‘fidelity’ of post-Soviet evolution of their country. They have been convinced that the better relations between Brussels and Moscow are the more ‘correct’ foreign policy of Russia will be in long-term perspective.

There is no such unambiguousness in Russian domestic security discourse on relations towards the NATO anymore. But still there is a significant number of politicians and security experts in Russia, who consider state of relations with NATO as the most important ‘litmus text’ for evaluation of Russia’s relations with Western democracies in general.

Two events in the fall of 2004 have become the dividing range in Russia’s domestic and foreign policy, including its policy towards NATO: 1) the Beslan hostage crisis in September and 2) the ‘Orange Revolution’ in Ukraine in November. Facing these challenges, Russian Federation has implemented a number of measures, which made more rigorous domestic political life and cut previous wide contacts, which have been established in previous years between Russia and foreign countries, including the NATO member states.

At this moment we may conclude that Russia’s policy towards NATO has crystallized around a number of points. They are based upon:

1) Reframing the notion of ‘national interests’ in contemporary Russia;

2) A number of recently approved programming documents, which specify power and accountability of governmental institutions in the security domain;

3) Skeptical attitude towards NATO’s ability to be preserved in its current form for a mid-term perspective;

4) Growing involvement of Russia into Asian affairs as recognition of shift of global political and economic power to Eastern Asia and Pacific Rim.

Current state of affairs

Rejection of Russia’s appeal for membership in NATO in the fall of 2001 has led Vladimir Putin and his colleagues in Kremlin to development of current vision of NATO as an intergovernmental organization, those important mission (besides several others) is to institutionalize Russophobe political forces, which dominates in legislative and governmental institutions of Central and Eastern European countries as well as in some countries of Western Europe (Great Britain, for example).

For current generation of Russian diplomats and generals it is obvious that strengthening of military and political stability in global affairs is impossible without NATO and USA. Meanwhile, they consider Russia as an important actor in some regions around its borders (Eastern Europe, Middle East, CIS, and Eastern Asia). Despite of importance of bilateral relations for regional stability, USA and Russia are divided now by a number of disputes, both old and new ones.

The good example of an old problem, which has been inherited from previous generation of political elites in both countries, is the abandoned ABM Treaty and deployment of US anti-missile systems in Europe as part of global ABM structure, controlled by Washington. All attempts of the Russian Federation to cooperate in its composition have been effectively rejected by the USA and its allies. Moscow concerns about future of nuclear containment have been ignored. As we know, Washington is not ready to assume any obligation, which may in future limit its ability to develop and deploy ABM facilities all around the world, including Central and Eastern Europe. Russia’s propositions for building-up of joint ABM architecture has been rejected with reference to the fact that NATO can not delegate to any non-Alliance country responsibility to guarantee defence of territory of the member-states. Russia rejects this argumentation and considers NATO actions as demonstration of its willingness to get one-sided preferences in the sensitive sphere of hard security.

The Military Doctrine of Russian Federation, which has been approved by President Dmitry Medvedev in February of 2010, indicates that the most important threat to security of Russian Federation today is the NATO eastward enlargement. Recently this scenario has been temporarily frozen by Washington, and it provides Russia a sense of predictability in relations with Brussels. But if NATO will return to its policy of enlargement into the former republics of USSR, new aggravation of relations between Moscow and Washington/Brussels is inescapable. Russia is warrant that NATO eastward enlargement is contradicting to logic of construction of cooperative security system in Europe and simply moves dividing lines in the European continent further to the East.

An example of new problem for bilateral relations is an act of intervention in the domestic affairs of Russia due to adoption by the US Congress and the US President and implementation of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. We are already familiar with some decisions of the Russian Government to counteract both direct and indirect consequences of the Act. Construction of barriers, which will prevent the US Administration to use the Magnitsky Act for interference into domestic affairs of Russia, will continue in future. The bottom line here is a situation when all contacts between the USA and Russian Federation, except of disarmament negotiations and trade/investments will be blocked. There is no positive interdependence between USA and Russia in any sphere except of hard security, that’s why it is not so difficult to imagine suspension of bilateral relations for any time horizon, from a few months to a few years.

We should emphasize that Russian Federation has developed its position towards almost all challenges to European and global politics, which we are discussing today here in Rome: on Afghanistan, Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, the Transatlantic link, the new Partnership policy, and the enlargement. In estimations of Russian experts, Afghanistan as the first NATO out-of area operation has become bad publicity to Alliance as a global policeman. It’s very difficult nowadays to imagine that Washington will be able to reduplicate such large-scale operation faraway from Article 5 zone. Most probably, this option is closed for NATO for a while or even forever. Russia is not a protagonist of the ‘Arab Spring’ process and very skeptical to its consequences. Since the collapse of the USSR, Moscow has been an opponent to export of revolutions and ‘regime change’ policy of NATO member-states in the North Africa, Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Russia is a fierce opponent to NATO eastward enlargement. Russian foreign policy elites abandon itself to the idea that for the ‘collective West’ NATO has nowadays a special symbolism as an evidence of the fact that in the current unstable world there are inviolable Transatlantic relationship and common democratic values.

In years past the ‘Russian strategy’ of the US Administration has been based on the notion that permanent political and media pressure on Kremlin will at some point guarantee Russia’s support for US actions in Eurasia and elsewhere. Nowadays it has become evident that this policy is useless. Russia’s negative reaction on any form of pressure is immediate and vigorous. Learning negative lessons of successful pressure of NATO leaders on Russia at the initial stages of Libyan edition of the ‘Arab Spring”, Kremlin has arrived to the conclusion that the best policy is to oppose any form of US and NATO political and public diplomacy’s pressure to get concessions from Russia. Moscow has learn rather well that its ‘flexibility’ in foreign policy domain will not be appreciated by Washington and not follow by US concessions in other sphere of bilateral or multilateral relations. It means that traditional diplomacy today has very limited capacity in Russia-NATO relations, and both sides should work hard to develop positive bargaining space. In fact, this is the most urgent challenge to NATO-Russia relations. We should bring diplomacy and trust back to dialogue between Brussels and Moscow.

For Russian politicians it is also obvious that there is growing gap between American ideological preferences and their abilities to their practical implementation. This situation is dangerous in and of itself, since it generates drive for utilization of military forces in every case when diplomatic and economic leverage are useless. Currently Russian leaders have a hope that new generation of US diplomatic and military leaders, including the State Secretary John Kerry as well as new chiefs of the DoD and CIA, have more positive view towards cooperation with Russia. Of course, these expectations are very modest due to the fact, that the Republican Party controls the House of Representatives and have powerful influence on US foreign policy decision-making.

Foreign Policy Concept of Russian Federation on relations with NATO and USA

These days a new version of the Foreign Policy Concept of Russian Federation is at its final stage of elaboration in Russia’s Government, the Administration of the President and expert community. Its text is still not available to the public, but what we already know about its “world view” is that its primary idea is the conceptualization of Russian Federation as an “island of stability” in “increasingly unpredictable and turbulent” global political and economic affairs.

There is an emerging consensus among Russian political leaders that Europe, and more broadly, the West, has already entered the stage of economic and political decline. That’s why we witness reconsideration of Russia’s attitude towards power centers, emerging in the XXI century instead of traditional power centers of previous century: USA, Western Europe and Japan. For example, Kremlin’s “European choice”, which has been declared by Vladimir Putin in the German Bundestag in late September 2001, soon after 9.11, has been recently replaced by Russia’s direct involvement into integration process with neighboring CIS countries, growing cooperation with Asian countries and BRICS partners.

Few weeks ago, in December 2012, President Vladimir Putin has visited the Russian military installation in Tajikistan, where he has discussed current stage and future of Russia-NATO cooperation. According to Vladimir Putin: “It is not clear what is raison d’etre of the NATO?  To a great extent it is an atavism of the Cold War period”. Taking that into consideration, Russia, according to the President Putin, is interested in the fact that NATO activities should not destroy existing mechanisms of enhancing security at the post-Soviet countries. That’s why two clearly defined priorities of Russian Federation towards NATO nowadays are:

1) Termination of NATO eastward enlargement;

2)  NATO’s waiver from actions, which goes beyond area, clearly defined at the Articles 5 of the NATO Charter.

Cooperation a la carte

Currently our leaders do not believe that NATO is capable to develop equal partnership with Russia. Despite of that, Moscow is not interested in any other form of relations with NATO except of relations on the principle of equality. Of course, Russia’s vision of optimal relations with NATO is firmly based on values of the Realist school of political thought. It includes:

1) Recognition of sovereignty as the highest political priority for a state;

2) ‘Spheres of influence’, which are known in contemporary Russian political language as ‘spheres of privileged interests’.

While Europe ceases to be a sphere of ‘privileged interests’ of USA, Washington is considering Eastern Asia as its highest foreign policy priority in future. But it is rather difficult to imagine that European nations will be deeply involved into US face-off with China. It is because of that, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has addressed Brussels in December 2012 with proposition to transform the Alliance into a political union and to start equal dialogue with Russia about external threats to European security, where both NATO member-states and Russia could cooperate and ‘row in the same boat’.

Russian Federation has left a Washington-centered community of nations in mid-2000s. Moscow has started construction of system of institutions and structures, which are able to support its independence and sovereignty. Nowadays while breaking almost all links with USA as response to the Magnitsky Act, Moscow is leaving community of Western powers intellectually. Probably, there will be no more ritual statements of Russian politicians on common values with members of the Euro-Atlantic community, and Moscow’s declarations on intention to become its full member one day.  Russia takes very seriously its sovereignty and not ready to bargain about it with Brussels and Washington. Today’s NATO is neither direct threat nor attractive partner to Russian Federation. From Kremlin’s point of view, the Alliance’s status today is similar to status of the Council of Europe. It is important for Russian diplomacy now to deal with the CoE for shaping Russia’s image in Europe, but at the same time the CoE membership is not able to change anything in Russian foreign policy. I.e., NATO may create new problems for Russian diplomacy but it is not able to provide solutions for already existing challenges and problems.

At the same time, it is obvious that Russia is weak both politically and economically to pretend for a major role in world politics. Its strategic independence is illusive. That’s why the most realistic version of Russia’s global mission is to get better role at the global and Eurasian balances of power via intensive dialogue with members of several clubs, where Russia is already a member: the Group of Eight, BRICS, G-20, and NATO. In 2013-2014 Russia will chair in three global forums – G8, G20 and BRICS. Summits, which will be hold on Russian territory, may become a good opportunity to demonstrate Moscow ability to bring into global security agenda and debates its own priorities on the ways to construct secure and sustainable future for the planet.


NATO-Russia relations in mid-term perspective will go through a number of conflicts and attempts to overcome their negative consequences. NATO today is not acknowledging Russia’s leading role in economic integration with Belarus and Kazakhstan. For NATO leaders the CSTO1 as the leading institution in security architecture of the post-Soviet area simply does not exist. In reaction to that Moscow is trying to downgrade Brussels’ influence in some CIS countries, first of all – in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Competition for influence in Azerbaijan may trigger off a larger confrontation due to the fact that Russia is much more interested in peaceful conflict resolution in Nagorno-Karabakh than the NATO member-states. Nowadays Brussels doesn’t have efficient instruments for prevention of Azerbaijan’s military operation against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. It is very realistic scenario that as the ‘side-effect’ of Israeli and US military operation against Iran, Baku will start its military operation in occupied Western districts of the country, which will push Armenia and, probably Russia, to react. US attempts to establish once again cooperation with Islam Karimov’s Uzbekistan most probably will follow by Russia’s deeper economic and military cooperation with Tashkent’s regional opponents – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. I.e., NATO-Russia competition in the CIS area may lead to the establishment of new dividing lines, arms race and further deterioration of bilateral relations between Washington/Brussels and Moscow.

Currently it is very important for Moscow to prevent duplication of the Libyan scenario in Syria. The scenario is: NATO air force operation; killing of the Syrian leader or his expulsion; establishment of puppet government; loosing political and military control, chaos and disintegration of a country. Moscow is afraid that NATO member-states do believe in efficiency of ‘Arab Spring’ mechanism for regime change and democratization of sovereign countries. As a result, temptation may emerge to repeat ‘Arab Spring’ scenario in post-Soviet countries, including Russian Federation itself.

Russia is aspiring to get NATO’s acknowledgement that the Alliance’s historical mission is accomplished and NATO is ready to transform itself into intergovernmental political organization. Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal of the European Security Treaty, which has been announced in June 2008 in Berlin, was based on these considerations. The idea of whole-European security treaty has been ignored by the NATO countries and rejected by its Secretary-General. But the idea is still alive for Kremlin, who see equal and mutually beneficial relations as imperative for dialogue of Moscow (as well as the CSTO) with Brussels and Washington.

We may predict that in long-term perspective Russia-NATO relations may become sustainable and mutually beneficial if the Asia-Pacific region will move to the zone of cooperation for them. Two NATO enlargements (1999 and 2004) have demonstrated for Russian Federation a simple truth that Euro-Atlantic area is overbooked by pointless confrontation, deeply rooted in the Cold War heritage. We should also strengthen the fact that due to lack of real threats to regional security and also as a consequence of current economic crisis, European segment of NATO has already become strategic periphery in global security architecture. It is because of that NATO and Russia should draw attention to Asia, where processes of global dimension are advancing. Partly this is due to the fact that global economic center has already moved into the region. On the other hand, growing number and scale of territorial disputes, regional arms race, several national nuclear programs and quickly changing balance of power in Eastern Asia make this region dangerous for global security. Nowadays USA/NATO and Russia have few disagreements and negative inertia of relationship in Asia. That’s why deideologization is the conditio sine qua non for normalization and development of successful NATO-Russia cooperation in years to come in Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

1 CSTO – Collective Security Treaty Organization. Member-states are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, and Tajikistan.