Courting NATO Moscow Hopes for a Goodwill Dividend in Lisbon
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has set the Kremlin on a pro-Western course. At the NATO summit in Lisbon, he is now hoping for pay back from the aliance in the form of a deeper partnership. But NATO has trouble seeing Russia as a partner and his wish may go unfilled.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev already achieved one of his goals before this week's NATO summit in Lisbon even began. The alliance will give him a much warmer reception that it did his predecessor, Vladimir Putin. During the a summit of NATO leaders in Bucharest in 2008, Putin ranted against the alliance, saying claims that its eastward expansion wasn't aimed against Russia weren't enough. "National security isn't built on promises," he said.
But for the past two years, Medvedev has been steering his country towards the West. Now he is traveling to Portugal with the hope that the West will be responsive to his overtures. He doesn't want Russia's flirtation with NATO to be a temporary thing, either. Prior to the summit, the Kremlin stated that Lisbon would mark a "new level in relations."
In recent months, NATO officials have vowed to treat Russia as an equal partner. Within the expert group currently working on a new strategy for NATO, the idea of a partnership with Russia has been discussed. Indeed, when the idea of having Russia as an "ally" came up in discussions, "the word didn't prompt anyone in our group to jump out of the window, not even those representing 'New Europe'," senior German diplomat Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz told SPIEGEL in an interview published this week. So far, however, the alliance hasn't delivered any concrete offer to Russia.
Still, Medvedev is traveling to Lisbon with a five-point plan -- five concrete steps to "pave the way for a genuine transformation of NATO-Russian relations."
- Building Trust
Russia and its neighbors in Eastern and Central Europe are to undertake efforts to normalize relations. Relations between Russia and Poland, which have improved significantly since 2009, could be used as an example here. In addition, both Russia and NATO should stop conducting military exercises in border areas. Last year, NATO maneuvers conducted in Georgia particularly angered the Russians.
- Missile Shield Cooperation
Russia and NATO should also work together on the creation of the planned US missile shield and produce joint threat analyses. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has already invited Russia to participate in the creation of the shield. But it remains unclear how such cooperation will look in concrete terms. "The NATO member states haven't even agreed amongst themselves what such a system will look like and how much it will cost," Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitriy Rogozin recently said in an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia.
- Cooperation on Afghanistan
Already, Russian officers are providing training to the Afghan army and they could soon supply Kabul with Mi-17 helicopters. During a raid at the end of October, Russian and American special units together cracked down on drug barons in the region. In return for its support, Russia is hoping for better "cooperation in developing a system of regional security for Afghanistan and its neighbors."
- A Stronger Alliance of Russian and NATO Organizations
Russia is hoping to increase the interoperability between Russian troops and NATO units so that they can work better together -- during peacekeeping missions, for example.
Joint training programs could "enable a new generation of Russian and NATO officers to better understand each other," according to the five-point plan.
- Reform of the NATO-Russia Council
Moscow has long been dissatisfied with the NATO-Russia Council. In the council's 28 countries plus one format, Russia feels more like an outsider than a proper partner.
The five-point plan was written by Igor Jurgens, the 48-year-old head of the Moscow-based Institute of Contemporary Development (Insor). Medvedev is also a member of the think tank's board, and Jurgens has risen to become one of the president's main advisors. Recently, Insor recommended a large-scale integration of Russia into NATO's structures, possibly including membership in the alliance, which was founded as a protective community against the Kremlin's army. A weekly Moscow newspaper recently poked fun at Jurgens' ability to think the unthinkable in a caricature. The paper showed the Medvedev advisor swapping out the red star placed by the Soviets on the Kremlin in the 1930s with the NATO compass emblem.
The strong faction of Russian hawks are viewing the charm offensive being conducted by Jurgens and Medvedev with great skepticism. To quiet them, the Kremlin chief will have to return from Lisbon with concrete results. Some particularly patriotic critics are already accusing Medvedev and Jurgens of betraying national interests. "Mr. Jurgens, are you a NATO officer?" some have asked disparagingly.
Security experts are skeptical about whether the expectations created in the run-up to Lisbon can be met. Ulrich Weisser, the former head of the planning commission in Germany's Defense Ministery said he feared that an "historical opportunity" would be missed in Portugal. He warned that NATO has a hard time viewing Russia as a partner.
It remains to be seen whether the current "warming (in relations) just represents a cyclical high point that will be followed by a new setback," said Fyodor Lukyanov, the publisher of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs. Relations between Russia and NATO have traditionally be very dependent on the state of ties between Washington and Moscow.
Following the loss by US President Barack Obama's Democrats to the Russia-skeptical Republicans in November Congressional elections, "things will change again -- in an old and very bad way," Lukyanov warned.