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.
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"NATO is an organization whose existence is entirely based, from its very beginning, on opposing Russia," says Mikhail Delyagin, director of the independent Institute for Globalization Problems in Moscow. "What is the purpose for NATO to keep attracting new members, if not to surround Russia?"Skip to next paragraph
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Early in his Kremlin tenure, former Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised the world, and many of his own compatriots, by responding to an interviewer's question about Russia joining NATO by saying, "I don't see why not ... isolation is not an option [for Russia]." But in subsequent years, ill will between the two sides spiked to the point that some commentators began talking of "a new cold war."
It is an article of faith in Russian foreign-policy folklore that, as the pro-Soviet Warsaw Pact alliance dissolved after 1989, US leaders pledged they would never take strategic advantage of the Soviet retreat. "We had a verbal promise from the US secretary of state [James Baker] that NATO would never expand to the east," says Valentin Falin, a close aide to then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. "But it wasn't written down."
Pavel Palazchenko, Mr. Gorbachev's personal interpreter during the final years of the USSR, says "there were legitimate expectations in the Soviet Union and later Russia that NATO wouldn't move east. It was inevitable that a military organization with that legacy [to oppose Russia] would be viewed with suspicion. The whole mess could have been handled differently from the start."
Moscow: stress political objectives
Where to go from here? Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has argued that Europe needs a completely fresh security architecture, one that stresses political rather than military objectives and includes Russia as a full partner. At the London School of Economics Thursday, Mr. Medvedev said he wanted an "equal partnership."
"The creation of a Pan-European pact should not lead to replacing old organizations with new ones," he said, according to Reuters. "The existing organizations should remain and take part in creating a new pact."
Medvedev's idea of a new deal would seem to make NATO redundant, and that is likely to be a nonstarter among the leaders meeting in Strasbourg this weekend. But many experts are calling for more pragmatic approaches to break some of the logjams in Russia's relations with the West.
"Today's Russia differs significantly from the Russia of a decade ago," Olga Oliker, an analyst with RAND, a global think tank, and lead author of a new report on Russian-US relations, said in a release this week. "Even with the economic downturn, it is wealthier, more stable, increasingly less democratic, and more assertive globally. If US policymakers hope to work with Moscow on key foreign and security policy goals, they must be aware of how they align – or don't align – with Russia's own interests."
One example of what can be accomplished by focusing on practical goals is on display in this week's announcement by Medvedev and Barack Obama that the US and Russia will soon resume strategic arms reduction talks. Another could soon arrive in the form of an accord on building a resupply corridor through Russia for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
"There's no need for Russia to join NATO; that's not going to happen," says Mr. Kremeniuk. "What we need to do is identify our common security concerns, map out areas of joint interest, and then set out to act in concert in these areas. That can work."