It is surprising NATO-Russia cooperation lasted as long as it did

Clearly the Russians have declared NATO as an adversary, so we have to begin to view Russia no longer as a partner but as more of an adversary than a partner, said Alexander Vershbow, the deputy secretary-general of NATO.  Do you agree with Mr. Vershbow that the Russian have declared NATO as an adversary, are we in phase when NATO and Russia are the adversaries or not, and why?

Igor Merheim-EyreProgramme Coordinator, Global Europe Centre, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

To some extent, NATO has always been Russia’s adversary. The end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union didn’t change that. The difference, however, lies in the scale of competition between the two sides. In the 1990s, if Russia had not seen NATO as an adversary, it would not have opposed its enlargement. Of course, the situation is more complicated because the Russians changed their minds on NATO enlargement more than once. Alcohol intoxicated Boris Yeltsin was happy to announce that Russia did not oppose Poland’s NATO membership in Warsaw, but the sobering effect of his return to Moscow made him change his view almost immediately. Putin, it must be remembered, even stated the possibility of Russia’s own membership of NATO, however distant such possibility seemed.

Nevertheless, the last two decades helped to foster a growing relationship between the two sides and, in fact, institutional cooperation such as the NATO-Russia Council, joint military exercises, and the use of Russian helicopters in Afghanistan, had been important in trust-building. Tensions increased over the US missile shield deployment, but not even all Central European countries, including Slovakia, were as enthusiastic as their other Visegrad partners, Poland and the Czech Republic. At the same time, NATO and the European Union did not take a generally anti-Russian stance during the 2008 war with Georgia, another post-Soviet country aspiring to join EU and NATO. In other words, competition existed, but side by side an increasing partnership.

The crisis in Ukraine, however, changed that. A clear political difference between the Western states and Russia, followed by Russian annexation of Crimea and build-up of troops on the western border with Ukraine made NATO’s involvement inevitable. The breaking of international law, and military operations in a country aspiring for closer integration with the West shattered the Cold War security order in Eastern Europe. The consequent building up of a NATO military presence in the Baltic States, Poland and Romania has been a rational consequence of Russia’s unwillingness to de-escalate the situation. The presence of these troops is highly symbolic. Whilst serving to reassure NATO’s eastern members, it is not a force capable of significant military deterrence but, rather, one that acts as a political deterrent to any attempts at further escalation. It does not seek direct military confrontation and, yet, it is another nail in the coffin for future cooperation. Russia is not yet an enemy, but it can hardly be described any longer as a partner. NATO-Russia cooperation, as we know it, is over. Indeed, it is surprising it lasted as long as it did.

Konrad MuzykaEurope and CIS Armed Forces Analyst, IHS Jane’s

Let me start by saying that NATO and the enlargement of the alliance have long been seen as one of the main external military threats to Russian security. In fact, that 2010 Military Doctrine explicitly state that ‘The main external military dangers are: the desire to endow the force potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with global functions carried out in violation of the norms of international law and to move the military infrastructure of NATO member countries closer to the borders of the Russian Federation, including by expanding the bloc’.

As such, what Mr. Vershbow named is what had been known in Russia for a long time. Prior to the events in Crimea and Ukraine, both Russia and the West tried to co-operate together on a wide range of issues such as Iranian nuclear programme or post-2014 Afghanistan. The key question is how both Russia and NATO will now act on such global issues.

Russia will not tolerate NATO’s moves to establish military presence close to its borders and/or any moves that would bring the alliance closer to Russia’s borders. Moscow will try to counter such moves, as now in Ukraine or in Georgia in 2008, with all possible means including outright military confrontation.

Sean KayProfessor, Department of Politics and Government, Ohio Wesleyan University

Russia is clearly making moves that would make it difficult for NATO members to view it as the partner that they set out to achieve with Moscow.  Of course, while Russia is responsible for its actions, at the same time many friendly Russian leaders over the last 20 years have consistently raised concerns that a range of NATO activities – from NATO enlargement, missile defense, etc., would do damage to the concept of a partnership.  Even if Russia were to backdown from eastern Ukraine now, there remains the issue of their illegal annexation of Crimea.  Thus while the narrative that Russia has on this crisis is essential to understanding it and to a de-escalation, NATO’s moves have consistently been transparent, consultative, and did seek to engage Russia – something Moscow regularly failed to take advantage of and for which its people have only their leaders to blame.  With time, however, I am confident that the seeds of the decline of Putinism are already well planted.  His actions will certainly have a long-term impact on how Russia’s behavior is seen in the world and that has done serious damage to the Russian people’s desire to be seen as important and respected.  So its not just the views of NATO officials that matter on this – ultimately it will be those of the Russian people, as with time they will have little choice but to reconcile the damage that Putin is doing to their aspirations and economic future.  Eventually, it will, at the same time, also be impossible to have a long-term settlement of Ukraine without Russian engagement, and Europe also has deep business and other economic relations with Russia.  At the end of the day, it will be also necessary to look for ways to identify mutual interests with Russia as a great power – as there are global concerns as well that have to be factored for – i.e. North Korea, Afghanistan, Syria, climate change, and most importantly, Iran.

Peter FeaverProfessor of Political Science, Director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies, Duke University

Putin’s dangerous flouting of international law has put him in a precarious position. But it need not be this way. NATO’s principal mission is the consolidation of security and stability in Europe, and that is very much in Russia’s national interest.


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