NATO-Russia Council meets again, but the progress is little

Last meeting of NATO-Russia Council took place in December 2016 and today there is another one. So it seems at least the frequency of those meeting is higher. How do you read this, is something changing in NATO-Russia relations or not much, and why?  Read few comments.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Credit: http://www.nato.int

Gustav Gressel, Senior Policy Fellow, Wider Europe Programme, European Council on Foreign Relations

Yes, they are meeting again, but the progress is little. Basically Germans and other Europeans demanded the NATO-Russia dialogue to be re-opened, but the format is less than ideal for many reasons. First, the Russian ambassador to NATO is a very preliminary figure in the Russian power structure. The entire foreign office is nothing but a more elaborate propaganda office, even Lawrow has very little influence on Russian foreign policy as such. Hence the Russian ambassador has very little room for maneuver to depart from the Russian official line or to actually comment on suggestions and proposals. Hence there is no progress.

The topics of today are above all Ukraine and confidence-building measures. On Ukraine, Russia is immovable. Also the foreign office of the Russian Federation knows very little about actual Russian operations in Ukraine, hand has zero influence on them. Ukraine is run by the presidential administration, the FSB and the GRU. So the Russian ambassador will read out his propaganda line, then he will be confronted with accusations about destabilising actions of Russia he doesn’t even know about and can’t influence even if he wished.

On confidence-building measures, particularly manoeuvres, snap-exercises, etc. the Russians will say this is a matter of OSCE and should not be discussed in the NATO-Russia council — which is to some extent true. If they are clever, they have a counter proposal to NATO’s request for transparency on manoeuvres that is by design unacceptable for NATO just to make them look non-constructive as well. For the time being the Russian General Staff and the Kremlin perceives the unpredictability and intransparency of Russia’s military actions as key asset and don’t want to give that up. Hence it is not up for debate, and the Russian Foreign Minister’s job is to find an appropriate excuse why this can’t be on the table.

You see, it will not matter much. These talks are rather for domestic consumption in order to signal that one is still interested in dialogue and that one at least tried every institution there is to prevent further escalation. But it’s not going to improve much.

John R. Deni*, Research Professor of National Security Studies, Strategic Studies Institute

My perception is that nothing is changing in the NATO-Russia relationship, in terms of its real substance. The NRC remains largely a venue for the two sides to talk past each other. Nonetheless, it also retains importance as really one of the only diplomatic tracks available to an alliance that remains committed to a kind of two-track approach to Russia — that is, dialogue on the one hand (through the relatively ineffective NRC) and deterrence on the other (through eFP, for instance).

It seems to me that most allies are convinced there can be no return to business as usual with Russia until it fundamentally changes its behavior, while some allies would like a thaw in relations. For now, the former are dominating NATO’s approach. If they are to maintain that position, they must at least acquiesce to attempts at dialogue, however ineffective they may be.

* These views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Governmen

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