Maturing partnership

  • 01 Oct. 2005
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  • Last updated: 04 Nov. 2008 01:59

Sergei Ivanov analyses the evolution of NATO-Russian relations since the creation of the NATO-Russia Council from Moscow’s perspective.

Sergei Ivanov analyses the evolution of NATO-Russian relations since the creation of the NATO-Russia Council from Moscow’s perspective.

The unprecedented scale and pace of global change in recent decades has transformed both Russia and the entire world. In the process, humankind has, without exaggeration, reached a unique point in its evolution. On the one hand, new opportunities have opened up to create a world order based upon equality, shared responsibility and cooperation among all states. On the other, gaps have been exposed in our mechanisms for countering the many new challenges to international security.

Inter-ethnic strife and religious conflict, terrorism and aggressive separatism, gun-running and drug trafficking have increasingly taken on transnational dimensions. In this way, they represent a grave and growing threat to each and every state, despite the best efforts of the world’s leading states to combat them. In such an environment, it is critical to be proactive and to develop the diplomatic, economic and military instruments to head off threats, whether posed to regional or global security. At this key juncture in history, Europe is obliged to develop a comprehensive and cooperative security posture to address the concerns of all European countries and international institutions. Moreover, a meaningful partnership between NATO and Russia should undoubtedly play an important role in this process.

The signing at the May 2002 Rome Summit by every NATO Ally and Russia of the declaration NATO-Russia Relations: A New Quality establishing the NATO-Russia Council was a milestone for creating the conditions in which such a partnership could emerge. Since the creation of the NATO-Russia Council, we have sought to transform this institution via political dialogue and practical cooperation into an effective instrument for building a new security and stability architecture in Europe. In so doing, NATO-Russia cooperation is predicated upon mutual respect for the concerns and interests of all sides, transparency and openness. It would not be possible to create a new qualitative relationship without accepting what we consider to be fundamental ground rules.

Today, on the basis of three-and-a-half years’ experience of working together in the NATO-Russia Council, we can say with confidence that the decision made by all our countries to forge an open and equal partnership has proved both timely and farsighted. The steps we undertook in Rome to meet each other half way were reasonable and rational. Overall, therefore, Russia is pleased with both the political and practical results from the Rome Declaration and believes that the NATO-Russia Council has already demonstrated that it is able to withstand the test of time.

Relations are improving all the time and this, in turn, is opening up new opportunities for practical cooperation in an ever-increasing number of areas. This includes counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation, counter-narcotics, joint peacekeeping, enhanced interoperability, pan-European air defence, as well as search and rescue at sea. Today, all of these issues form part of what is an increasingly intense and meaningful dialogue between NATO and Russia. Indeed, some 20 permanent, dedicated working groups are currently operating under the auspices of the NATO-Russia Council, each of which is focused on tangible goals. Meetings of defence ministers take place on a regular basis, providing a forum for discussion on a variety of issues and an opportunity to develop common resolutions.

A Status of Forces Agreement was signed in April of this year providing a legal framework for the movement of military personnel and support staff to and from Allied countries, Partner countries and Russia, thereby making it much easier to organise joint activities and participate in joint operations. Indeed, Russia is about to begin participating in Active Endeavour, the NATO-led counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean. All procedural and technical obstacles have been resolved, paving the way for ships from the Black Sea Fleet to join the mission next year.

Another fruitful area has been that of theatre missile defence. Missile defence is potentially an extremely sensitive subject. This is because the deployment of theatre missile defences has the potential to transform the balance of forces in the region in which they are deployed. Moreover, this factor needs special consideration in Europe. For this reason, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed theatre missile defence as an area for NATO-Russia cooperation as early as 2000. Subsequently, this initiative has been both supported by the Alliance and taken forward by the NATO-Russia Council. In this way, we have together come to understand that broad cooperation in this area helps both to address defence concerns and to reduce the financial cost. As a result, we intend to take this cooperation further.


Despite the many accomplishments of the NATO-Russia Council, the overall improvement in relations and the progress that has clearly been made in identifying common ground, problems remain in this relationship. Indeed, in the spirit of open dialogue and genuine partnership, it would be disingenuous of me, were I to ignore those areas where we have differences. We believe that, as our relations evolve, there must be total transparency. This is in contrast to our experience of what actually happened when the Baltic states joined NATO. Indeed, from the very first day that these countries became NATO members, the Alliance deployed combat aircraft over their territory in a show of air policing that left us wondering whether anything untoward was happening there that might pose a danger to international security.

We have fundamental differences with NATO over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE Treaty). Russia has ratified the Adapted CFE Treaty, which is intended to constitute a cornerstone of the evolving Euro-Atlantic security architecture. By contrast, the NATO Allies keep insisting on what we consider to be a far-fetched linkage of the Treaty ratification to fulfilment of commitments made at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s 1999 Istanbul Summit in relation to Georgia and Moldova. Since NATO insists on this linkage, the new Baltic Allies, none of which have signed the CFE Treaty, effectively form a grey zone that is not covered by international arms-control agreements. To resolve this issue, Russia has taken concrete steps, starting with the withdrawal of its military bases from Georgia. We have also entered into arduous negotiations with the Transdniestrian Republic in Moldova. However, the Alliance states are yet to begin fulfilling their commitments in relation to the Adapted CFE Treaty.

Another area where no progress has been made is that of transit, both civilian and military, to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea that is surrounded by Lithuania and Poland and some 320 kilometres from the Russian border. This is particularly galling because of the many pledges and assurances that were made in the run-up to the double enlargement of both NATO and the European Union that have not been honoured.

We are also quite concerned by information indicating that the United States might station silo-based anti-missile launchers in Eastern Europe. This is because we are not persuaded such locations are the most appropriate to counter missiles capable of attacking the United States. Moreover, any decision to deploy such systems would surely complicate the ongoing and related efforts to develop theatre missile defences within the NATO-Russia Council, thereby having an adverse impact on the whole Euro-Atlantic security architecture.

Although we have worked together to combat the threat posed by terrorism and agreed in December 2004 a NATO-Russia Action Plan on Terrorism, we have to recognise that there is much more that we could do to improve coordination of our counter-terrorist activities. The tragedies of New York, Madrid, London, Moscow, Beslan, Nalchik and Amman all demonstrate that our common enemy is not only extremely dangerous but also capable of undermining the security architecture of the entire world. For this reason, Russia has repeatedly argued that the international community must not adopt double standards when it comes to terrorist threat perceptions and that all collusion with terrorists, their supporters and sponsors, is unacceptable. Despite this, such practices continue.

For the record, Russia has never pursued and will never pursue talks or entertain any contacts with terrorists. Moreover, in the same way, we expect our NATO partners to adhere to similar principles and not, for example, grant asylum to individuals who are on the wanted list of other countries, as has been the case in both the United Kingdom and the United States.

The only effective way to combat terrorism is to develop common international policies and then to implement them by using all the diplomatic, political, economic and military capabilities we have at our disposal. Only by taking such steps will it be possible, for example, to cut the flow of money to terrorist organisations. However, even though Russia has raised this issue at various multilateral meetings involving those engaged in preventing and suppressing terrorism, terrorist sponsors are still able to act with impunity. The issue is not how well they are able to conceal the sources of funding, since technically it is feasible to identify and track suspect transactions and to crack down on the activities of various quasi-charitable foundations. Indeed, this is what special services are for. Rather, the issue is ensuring that all members of the anti-terrorist coalition address these matters from a global perspective and not from one of narrow, national concerns.

Drugs and terrorism

According to conventional wisdom, the bulk of the money used to finance transnational terrorism is generated by drug trafficking. Moreover, annual international trade in deadly drugs is estimated at some US $30 billion. The situation is so grave that I believe that both European and former Soviet states are today facing what amounts to drug aggression orchestrated from Afghanistan. Indeed, in Russia alone, more than 50 tons of drugs brought in from that country have been seized in the course of this year. Concerning Europe as a whole, some 90 per cent of the heroin consumed is, according to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, of Afghan provenance.

Every year, drug production in Afghanistan is growing. Whereas in 2003 some 360 tons of heroin was produced there, in 2004 that figure rose to 420 tons, and this year it might reach 500 tons. These figures provide graphic evidence of the fact that the efforts of both the Afghan authorities and the whole of the international community to suppress the production and smuggling of drugs have to date been totally inadequate. Moreover, as this criminal enterprise expands, we are left with no choice but to take ever more robust counter-measures.

In this context, I would like to see experts from NATO and Russia and other international institutions come together to examine the practicalities of setting up some kind of “security belt” all along Afghanistan’s border. To this end, I believe that much could be achieved were NATO to work together with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which comprises, among others, the states of the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as Russia. Such cooperation would be beneficial to both organisations and would help demonstrate our common resolve to address security concerns in Central Asia.

I also believe that it would be helpful to set up a dedicated body within the NATO-Russia Council to address cooperation in the sphere of intelligence-sharing. This would be in addition to the joint terrorist threat assessments that are being conducted under the auspices of the Ad Hoc Working Group on terrorism. Moreover, we have already approached our NATO colleagues with such a proposal, which, once realised, would, in my view, both promote more efficient counter-terrorist activities and greater transparency in the NATO-Russia relationship.

Since the NATO-Russia Council is so young an institution, it would be naïve to expect all the issues that I have outlined above to be resolved over so short a period. Clearly more time is needed. However, time alone will not solve everything. In addition to time, it will take good will, resolve, and a willingness to meet each other half way, gradually setting aside the misgivings and distrust that remain as a legacy of the Cold War.

In this regard, the response to the difficulties of a Russian AS-28 mini-submarine off Kamchatka in the Pacific Ocean in early August was especially encouraging. When the submarine got in trouble, we were obliged to request assistance from our UK and US colleagues and they responded immediately. Indeed, the Russian crew was saved thanks, above all, to the proficiency and professionalism of the Royal Navy. This graphic example of the benefits of working together makes me confident that future cooperation between Russia and NATO will prove fruitful both in combating global challenges and in specific situations, such as rescue efforts to help people in a crisis. Indeed, the potential in our cooperation and that of the NATO-Russia Council, is far from exhausted. I believe, therefore, that in time it will be possible to elevate our relationship to an even higher level, which might rightly be termed a “mature partnership”.

Sergei Ivanov is defence minister of Russia.