The Future Of Russia-NATO Relations – Analysis

Some additional thoughts come to mind regarding the September 10 Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel: Another Attempt to Get Russia Into NATO?

Although unlikely at present and in the not too distant future, the idea of Russia in NATO should not be completely ruled out in the long term. On this matter, there is a basis to think differently from both the pro and not so pro-Russian outlooks. Offsetting that view, is the notion that Western interests can be arguably improved upon, with a change of some neoconservative and neoliberal foreign policy driven pursuits.

The future offers the potential for a less apprehensive attitude towards Russia. A number of individuals including former American National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski believe that in the next hundred years or so, the United States will experience a decline in its geopolitical prowess. Such a scenario can gradually nurture a different way of approaching certain matters.

Russian membership in NATO would surely require a change of thinking within the grouping of key Western strategic decision makers. In the West, there is the view that Russia still needs to shed some of its imperial past. At times, this perception has ignored that mindset being evident in the West. Post-Soviet Russia has a pretty much stay at home and near its armed forces, which is different from the wider role of NATO. The budgetary considerations of post-Soviet Russia are geared towards giving greater preference to domestic concerns, when compared to the more guns over butter economic approach and global military presence of the Soviet Union.An August 17 opinion piece in The Moscow Times “Thawing the Frozen Conflict in Transdnestr” touches on the differences of opinion over certain international disputes. The commentary favors decreasing, if not eliminating altogether, the relatively small Russian troop presence in the disputed former Moldavian SSR territory of Pridnestrovie (Transdnestr), with the inclusion of an international (Western) military force.

It suggests that Russia and Pridnestrovie might go along with this advocacy in exchange for some Western economic perks. This kind of a strings attached diplomacy can have limits. What gets offered is not always enough to influence a given party – which can perceive such an arrangement as encouraging the dominance of one side over the other in the long run. Moreover, the party being wooed with perks might have their own version of a string attached approach.

At last notice, the two newest European Union (EU) member nations (Bulgaria and Romania) have yet to be fully integrated into that entity. There are several countries ahead of Moldova for EU membership consideration. Moldova desires Pridnestrovie and not vice versa. There is ample reason to think that Russia and some other parts of the former Communist bloc should not get too dependent on Western economic support.

As noted in that Moscow Times article, the Russian army in Pridnestrovie played a key role in ending the war between Moldova and Pridnestrovie in 1992. With a limited Russian force (numbering somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500) remaining in place there, war between Moldova and Pridnestrovie does not appear likely. Why then the effort to get others militarily situated in that territory? Is it for the purpose of influencing a former Moldavian SSR settlement which is not as favorable for Pridnestrovie, as well as Russia’s preference?

Whereas Pridnestrovie seeks eventually becoming part of Russia, the Kremlin prefers the former Moldavian SSR as a nation, with autonomy for Pridnestrovie. An internationally recognized Moldova minus Pridnestrovie could potentially lead to a Moldovan state that is not as agreeable to Russia. On the other hand, Moscow does not favor a former Moldavian SSR state becoming part of a major military alliance which does not include Russia. The EU has another component besides its civilian aspect. Adopted in 2003, the “Berlin-Plus” arrangements closely link the EU and NATO on strategic issues of mutual interest between the two entities.

A comparatively larger Western led military deployment in Kosovo (where slightly under 10,000 foreign military personnel are said to be located) has not made it a safer place than Pridnestrovie. The Western countries militarily involved in Kosovo are not as geographically close to that region as Russia is to Pridnestrovie. Unlike the Russian stance on the former Moldavian SSR, the leading Western nations have contradicted the territorial integrity of Serbia by recognizing Kosovo’s independence.

From the point of view of Russia’s best interests, a case can be made against the Russian government’s recognition of Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence. Regardless, the Russian government has an explanation for its independence recognition of these two disputed former Georgian SSR territories and non-independence recognition of the other contested former Communist bloc lands (of Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh and Pridnestrovie). Since the 1990s warfare over disputed former Communist bloc territories (claimed by Georgia, Serbia, Moldova and Azerbaijan), Georgia is the lone country to have initiated (in 2008) a significant military strike on land that it covets. The Russian independence recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia came shortly after the armed Georgian action.

There is good reason to believe that most and quite possibly all of the disputed former Communist bloc territories will not be completely settled anytime soon. This likelihood does not mean that Russia and NATO can not improve their relations. NATO member Turkey’s independence recognition of the northern region of Cyprus does not appear to be made into such a great issue. (Turkey is the only country recognizing the independence of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”)

One-sided comments like these (from the referenced Russia Profile discussion) are counterproductive to fostering closer Russia-West ties, which are mutually beneficial:

Russia does not respect the sovereignty of some of its neighbors, pursues an aggressive foreign economic policy to the detriment of certain key NATO members, and does not respect many of its OSCE and Council of Europe obligations (both domestic and towards other states). Consequently, it is inconceivable to me that the NATO states would accept Russia as a member in the near future, if ever. It would be tantamount to letting the wolf into the hen house.”

The reverse can be thrown back at the leading Western governments for advocating the dismemberment of Kosovo from Serbia. Likewise, the problematical issue of Russia’s relations with some of its “near abroad” is not a simple instance of an overbearingly evil Russia against innocent others. Most Abkhaz and Ossetians prefer Russia over Georgia. The overall mood in Pridnestrovie and a considerable segment of Ukraine’s population Ukrainians differ with the negativity in the above excerpted comments.

An underlying factor influences Russia’s image in the West. Some major Western media outlets and think tanks continue to noticeably downplay mainstream Russian views, in favor of Russians thinking like Yulia Latynina and Gary Kasparov. This situation does not serve to better understand Russia and runs opposite to being reasonably objective.

This article first appears in the American Chronicle on September 17, 2010.


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Michael Averko

Michael Averko

Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic. He has appeared as a guest commentator on the BBC and WABC talk radio, in addition to having been a panelist at the World Russia Forum, Russia Forum New York and US-Russia.org Experts' Panel. Besides Averko's Eurasia Review column - Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal, Global Research, History News Network, InoSMI.Ru, Johnson's Russia List, Journal of Turkish Weekly, Kyiv Post, Oriental Review, Penza News, Pravda.Ru, Pravoslavie.Ru, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Russia Insider, Sputnik News, Strategic Culture Foundation, The Huffington Post, Valdai Discussion Club and WikiLeaks, are among the numerous venues where his commentary have either appeared or been referenced. The American Institute in Ukraine and the Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies, have referenced some of his commentary, along with academic white papers prepared for NATO Watch, Ohio State University, Problems of Post-Communism and the Royal College of Defence Studies. He is source referenced in Richard Sakwa's book "Frontline Ukraine". Averko's Eurasia Review article on Pavlo Skoropadsky, provides the first full online transcript of Skoropadsky's edict calling for an "All-Russian Federation", inclusive of Russia and Ukraine. Among other issues, that article explains the relationships among the major combatants in the Russian Civil War. He can be reached via [email protected]

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