Move over NATO: Russia pushes new security treaty for Europe

Russia, sidelined at the cold war’s end, has drafted a new security treaty that would give it more input and reduce tensions with NATO aspirants on its border, such as Georgia.

The world took a wrong turn at the end of the cold war, leaving Russia stranded and isolated on the margins of Europe, and condemning the continent's security architecture to remain in permanent disbalance.

So argues Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who has launched a foreign policy offensive to convince Western governments to negotiate a full-scale treaty, a draft of which the Kremlin has conveniently published, aimed at restoring harmony in Europe and preventing the kind of misunderstandings that led to last year's brief but violent war between Russia and Georgia.

"Russia does not consider the current setup to be conducive to better cooperation between Russia and NATO," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Russia wants more equality. It wants to be consulted about any important issue of European security, in a way that ensures Russia's viewpoint will be heard and taken into account.

The 14-point draft treaty

The 7-page, 14-point draft treaty would "finally get rid of the legacy of the cold war," says a statement on Mr. Medvedev's website, by requiring consultations between all parties on major issues that affect European security and mandating an emergency meeting of all European powers in the event of a crisis.

Alexander Golts, military expert with the online news-magazine Yezhednevny Zhurnal, says the treaty amounts to an elaborate "trap" that would effectively give Russia a veto over decisions made by NATO.

"The main reason Russia can't come to terms with the West or integrate into Europe is because Russia has failed to develop domestically" to meet Western standards, says Mr. Golts. "The Kremlin doesn't want to discuss Russia's lack of democracy, or its human rights problems, but wants to cast its isolation as an issue of security. This draft treaty is a way of turning back to the old game of counting tanks and warheads instead."

Medvedev first suggested that Europe's security system needs a fundamental overhaul last year, but his idea met with a lukewarm response. Few in the West appear to think there's anything seriously wrong with Europe, which has seen historically unprecedented integration over the past two decades under the twin auspices of the European Union and the military alliance, NATO.

"I don't see the need for new treaties or legally binding documents, because we do have a framework [for cooperation] already," NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said following talks in Moscow over the weekend.

"But we are of course prepared to discuss the ideas in the right forum," perhaps the non-military Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, he added

Moscow: We've been sidelined

Moscow has long argued that Western triumphalism following the Iron Curtain's collapse led it to sideline Russia and ignore its legitimate concerns.

"After the cold war, the West overestimated Russia's weakness and underestimated its power," says Mr. Kremeniuk. "It decided that Russia was no longer of sufficient weight to be heeded in international circles, or have its interests taken into account."

Like many Russian analysts, he argues that the failure to include Russia as a full member of the post-cold war security system led to a deterioration of relations
– dubbed 'the second cold war' by some – especially after former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came to power and began trying to reassert Russia's traditional great power prerogatives.

Other experts acknowledge that the historic opportunities following the USSR's collapse were missed by the leaders of the time, but say there are no shortcuts to redesigning the relationship between Russia and the West.

"This treaty amounts to a very unhelpful suggestion," says Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "It overlooks the basic issue, which is the lack of trust between East and West. The problems are real, but it's very naive of Medvedev to think things would be fine if only we had a legally binding treaty."

He adds that while the West made mistakes in the post-cold war period, Moscow also needs to examine its own behavior – especially toward its nearest neighbors, such as Ukraine and Georgia.

"Russia needs to highlight its powers of attraction, not coercion, in its dealings with the countries of the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe" as a key to wider regional trust and stability, he says.

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