As NATO leaders meet, how will they deal with Russia?
Some advocate inviting Russia to join. Russian President Medvedev wants a new security architecture that includes his country.
As NATO leaders gather in Strasbourg to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the soon-to-be 28-member organization, the elephant not in the room – but very much on their minds – will be Russia, the Eurasian giant which, in its previous incarnation as the USSR, was the Western alliance's original raison d'être.Skip to next paragraph
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Some NATO members wonder why, after most of the former Soviet Union's allies have joined, Russia still remains stubbornly outside the group's tent. But while the lineup at NATO's front door is long and includes some former Soviet republics, Russia isn't an applicant. Nor is an invitation from NATO likely to land in the Kremlin anytime soon.
Still, a new conversation about the problem of Russia's absence appears to be in the offing. Moscow's angry objections to NATO's march to Russia's borders has become one of Europe's biggest diplomatic problems in recent years, while a great many other pressing security issues – from Afghanistan to Kosovo – might be handled much more smoothly if Moscow were a partner rather than an embittered outsider.
"We need Russia for the resolution of European and global problems," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told journalists earlier this week. "That is why I think it would be good for Russia to join NATO," if it can meet membership requirements, he added.
Moscow's official response to Mr. Sikorski's suggestion, delivered by Russia's NATO ambassador, Dmitri Rogozin, was a study in ambivalence: "There is no such necessity at the moment [to join NATO], but we cannot rule out this opportunity in future," he said.
Differing security interests
Like most elegant-sounding ideas, this one has a long, tangled history, and most experts believe it would never work in practice. Russia sprawls across two continents, has an authoritarian political culture that is at odds with basic Western precepts, and still regards itself as a superpower rather than a team player.
"Many Russian security interests, including the Arctic, a long border with China, and our southern neighbors, are not things NATO would want to be dragged into," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Our problem with NATO is not how to join, but how to work together, to create a modus vivendi."
Finding a way for Russia and NATO to coexist has evaded leaders on both sides since the USSR collapsed nearly two decades ago. Russia's brutal war against separatist Chechnya, which began in 1994, arguably led to NATO's decision the next year to begin the process of inducting former Soviet allies in eastern Europe.
Moscow's attack on neighboring Georgia last year, to defend a Georgian separatist enclave, led to a deep freeze in relations that has only lately begun to thaw.
Western leaders continue to reject Russian claims that it is entitled to a "sphere of influence" that embraced most of the former USSR, and therefore has a right to veto potential NATO membership for ex-Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia.
The Russians have their own narrative, stressing NATO's "aggressive" wars against Russian ally Serbia in the 1990s and its ongoing campaign to "encircle" Russia by bringing ever more former Soviet republics into the alliance.