Relations with Russia
For more than two decades, NATO has worked to build a partnership with Russia, developing dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest. Cooperation has been suspended since 2014 in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine but political and military channels of communication remain open. Concerns about Russia’s continued destabilising pattern of military activities and aggressive rhetoric go well beyond Ukraine.
NATO is pursuing a dual-track approach towards Russia: meaningful dialogue on the basis of a strong deterrence and defence posture. (NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, September 2017)
- Relations started after the end of the Cold War, when Russia joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (1991). This forum for dialogue was succeeded in 1997 by the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which brings together all Allies and partner countries in the Euro-Atlantic area.
- Practical cooperation started after Russia joined the Partnership for Peace programme (1994) and deployed peacekeepers in support of NATO-led peace-support operations in the Western Balkans in the late 1990s.
- The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act provided the formal basis for bilateral relations.
- Dialogue and cooperation were strengthened in 2002 with the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) to serve as a forum for consultation on current security issues and to direct practical cooperation in a wide range of areas.
- Russia's disproportionate military action in Georgia in August 2008 led to the suspension of formal meetings of the NRC and cooperation in some areas, until spring 2009. The Allies continue to call on Russia to reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
- All practical civilian and military cooperation under the NRC with Russia has been suspended since April 2014, in response to Russia’s military intervention and aggressive actions in Ukraine, and its illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea, which Allies condemn in the strongest terms. But channels of political and military communication remain open to exchange information on issues of concern, reduce misunderstandings and increase predictability.
- Allies’ concerns about Russia’s destabilising actions and policies go beyond Ukraine and include provocative military activities near NATO’s borders stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea; irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, military posture and underlying posture; the risks posed by its military intervention and support for the regime in Syria; and the nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom in March 2018, a clear breach of international norms.
- On 2 August 2019, the North Atlantic Council issued a statement supporting the United States decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in response to Russia’s material breach of the Treaty. The Allies regret that Russia has shown no willingness and taken no steps to comply with its international obligations. NATO will respond in a measured and responsible way to the significant risks posed by Russia’s SSC-8 system. At the same time, Allies are firmly committed to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.
- NATO has responded to this changed security environment by enhancing its deterrence and defence posture, while remaining open to dialogue. The Alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia.
More background information
After Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the Allies suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation in April 2014, while keeping open channels of political and military communication. The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) remains an important forum for dialogue, on the basis of reciprocity, and has met ten times since 2016.
At the NATO Summit in Wales in September 2014 and at successive summits since then, Allied leaders have condemned in the strongest terms Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, calling on Russia to stop and withdraw its forces from Ukraine and along the country’s border. Allies continue to demand that Russia comply with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities; end its illegitimate occupation of Crimea; refrain from aggressive actions against Ukraine; halt the flow of weapons, equipment, people and money across the border to the separatists; and stop fomenting tension along and across the Ukrainian border. NATO does not and will not recognise Russia's illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.
The Allies have also noted that violence and insecurity in the region led to the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines passenger flight MH17 on 17 July 2014, calling for those directly and indirectly responsible to be held accountable and brought to justice as soon as possible. In May 2018, the Joint Investigation Team, which is investigating the MH17 crash, concluded that the BUK-TELAR that was used to down the aircraft originated from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, a unit of the Russian army from Kursk. Allies stand in solidarity with the Netherlands and Australia, which call on Russia to take State responsibility for the downing of flight MH17.
Allies strongly support the settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine by diplomatic and peaceful means and welcome the ongoing diplomatic efforts to this end. All signatories of the Minsk Agreements must comply with their commitments and ensure their full implementation. Russia has a significant responsibility in this regard.
NATO’s concerns go well beyond Russia’s activities in Ukraine. The Allies continue to express their support for the territorial integrity of Georgia and the Republic of Moldova within their internationally recognised borders and call on Russia to withdraw the forces it has stationed in all three countries without their consent. Russia’s military activities, particularly along NATO’s borders, have increased and its behaviour continues to make the Euro-Atlantic security environment less stable and predictable, in particular its practice of calling snap exercises, deploying near NATO borders, conducting large-scale training and exercises and violating Allied airspace. Russia is also challenging Euro-Atlantic security and stability through hybrid actions, including attempted interference in the election processes and the sovereignty of nations, widespread disinformation campaigns and malicious cyber activities. The Allies also condemn the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Salisburyin March 2018, and express solidarity with the United Kingdom. In the wake of this attack, the maximum number of personnel in the Russian Mission at NATO Headquarters was reduced by 10 people.
This is compounded by Russia’s continued violation, non-implementation and circumvention of numerous obligations and commitments in the realm of arms control and confidence- and security-building measures. Allies have long been concerned about Russia’s ongoing selective implementation of the Vienna Document and the Open Skies Treaty, and its long-standing non-implementation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty which undermine Euro-Atlantic security. Moreover, in December 2018, NATO foreign ministers supported the finding of the United States that Russia was in material breach of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty not to possess, produce or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 kilometres, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles. The Allies concluded that Russia had developed and fielded a missile system, the SSC-8 (9M729), which violated the Treaty and posed significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security, and called on Russia to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance. On 1 February 2019, the United States suspended its obligations under the INF Treaty, providing the requisite six-month written notice to Treaty Parties of its withdrawal. The Allies remained open to dialogue and engaged Russia on its violation, including at two NATO-Russia Council meetings in January and July 2019. However, Russia continued to deny its INF Treaty violation, refused to provide any credible response, and took no demonstrable steps toward returning to full and verifiable compliance. As a result, on 2 August, the United States decided to withdraw from Treaty with the full support of the Allies. NATO will respond in a measured and responsible way to the significant risks posed by Russia’s SSC-8 system. At the same time, Allies are firmly committed to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. For over three decades, the INF Treaty was a landmark in arms control. It entered into force in 1988 with the aim to reduce threats to security and stability in Europe – in particular the threat of short-warning attack on targets of strategic importance – by requiring the verifiable elimination of an entire class of missiles possessed by the United States and the former Soviet Union.
Russia’s military intervention and considerable military presence in Syria have posed further risks for the Alliance. On 5 October 2015, in response to Russia’s military intervention in Syria, the Allies called on Russia to immediately cease their attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians, to focus its efforts on fighting so-called Islamic State, and to promote a solution to the conflict through a political transition. In April 2018, Allies expressed strong support to the US, UK and French joint military action in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
For more than two decades, NATO has worked to build a partnership with Russia, including through the mechanism of the NRC, based upon the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act and the 2002 Rome Declaration. Russia has breached its commitments, as well as violated international law, breaking the trust at the core of its cooperation with NATO.
The Allies continue to believe that a partnership between NATO and Russia, based on respect for international law, would be of strategic value. They continue to aspire to a cooperative, constructive relationship with Russia – including reciprocal confidence-building and transparency measures and increased mutual understanding of NATO’s and Russia’s non-strategic nuclear force postures in Europe – based on common security concerns and interests, in a Europe where each country freely chooses its future. They regret that the conditions for that relationship do not currently exist. Meeting at the Brussels Summit in July 2018, Allied leaders underlined that there can be no return to ‘business as usual’ until there is a clear, constructive change in Russia’s actions that demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities.
Until the suspension of activities in April 2014, the NRC provided a framework for consultation on current security issues and practical cooperation in a wide range of areas of common interest:
Support for NATO-led operations: For a number of years, Russia supported the NATO-led, UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan through various arrangements to facilitate the transit of non-military equipment for ISAF contributors across Russian territory. Several Russian ships were deployed in support of Operation Active Endeavour, NATO's maritime operation against terrorism in the Mediterranean, and as part of Operation Ocean Shield, NATO's counter-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa. Until the withdrawal of its peacekeepers in early 2003, Russia supported the NATO-led peace-support operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.
Support for the Afghan Armed Forces: The NRC Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund project, launched in 2011, helped train Afghan Armed Forces to operate and maintain their helicopter fleet and to conduct medical evacuations. Some 40 Afghan helicopter maintenance staff were trained by the end of 2013.
Counter-narcotics training of Afghan and Central Asian personnel: The NRC Counter-Narcotics Training Project, launched in December 2005, helped to build local capacity and promote regional networking and cooperation among mid-level officers from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Pakistan joined in 2010. Implemented in cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), fixed training took place in one of four institutes in Turkey, Russia or the United States and mobile courses were conducted in each of the seven participating countries. Over 3,500 officers were trained under the project. (Since the suspension of cooperation with Russia, NATO has organised a new project with the UNODC.)
Combating terrorism: An NRC Action Plan on Terrorism was launched in December 2004. Cooperation in this area included exercises and regular exchanges of information and in-depth consultations on various aspects, such as consequence management, countering improvised explosive devices, and hosting and securing high-visibility events. Under the Cooperative Airspace Initiative, an information exchange system was developed to provide air traffic transparency and early notification of suspicious air activities to help prevent terrorist attacks such as the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The STANDEX project developed technology to enable the stand-off detection of explosive devices in mass transport environments, and successful live trials took place in June 2013.
Theatre missile defence/ ballistic missile defence: A common concern was the unprecedented danger posed to deployed forces by the increasing availability of ever more accurate ballistic missiles. A study, launched in 2003, assessed the possible levels of interoperability among the theatre missile defence systems of the Allies and Russia, and command post and computer-assisted exercises were organised to develop mechanisms and procedures for joint operations. At the 2010 Lisbon Summit, NRC leaders approved a joint ballistic missile threat assessment and agreed to develop a joint analysis of the future framework for missile defence cooperation. (While Russia continues to voice concerns about NATO's planned missile defence capability, Allies underline that it is not directed against Russia, nor will it undermine Russia's strategic deterrent but is intended to defend against potential threats from beyond the Euro-Atlantic area.)
Non-proliferation and arms control: Expert discussions focused on issues related to the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, developing recommendations to strengthen existing non-proliferation arrangements and exploring possible practical cooperation in the protection against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Frank discussions took place on issues related to conventional arms control, such as the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), the Open Skies Treaty and confidence- and security-building measures. A key priority was to work towards the ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty – so the Allies expressed concern over Russia's unilateral "suspension" of its participation in the treaty in December 2007 and its subsequent decision in March 2015 to suspend participation in the joint consultative group that meets in Vienna regularly to discuss the implementation of the CFE Treaty.
Nuclear weapons issues: Several seminars focused on nuclear doctrine and strategy, lessons learned from nuclear weapons incidents and accidents, and potential responses to the detection of improvised nuclear or radiological devices. Between 2004 and 2007, experts and representatives from NRC countries also observed four nuclear weapon accident response field exercises, which took place in Russia and each of NATO's nuclear weapon states (France, the United Kingdom and the United States). Such activities increased transparency, developed common understanding of nuclear weapons accident response procedures, and built confidence that the nuclear weapon states were fully capable of responding effectively to any emergency involving nuclear weapons.
Military-to-military cooperation: Military liaison arrangements were enhanced under the NRC at the Allied Commands for Operations and for Transformation, as well as in Moscow. A key objective of military-to-military cooperation was to build trust, confidence and transparency, and to improve the ability of NATO and Russian forces to work together in preparation for possible future joint military operations. Areas of cooperation included logistics, combating terrorism, search and rescue at sea, countering piracy, theatre missile defence/missile defence and military academic exchanges – and related military activities.
Submarine crew search and rescue: Work in the area of submarine crew search and rescue at sea grew steadily following the signing of a framework agreement on cooperation in this area in February 2003. Russia participated in three NATO-led search-and-rescue exercises between 2005 and 2011
Defence transparency, strategy and reform: Aimed at building mutual confidence and transparency, dialogue took place on doctrinal issues, strategy and policy, including their relation to defence reform, nuclear weapons issues, force development and posture. Initiatives launched in the area of defence reform focused on the evolution of the military, management of human and financial resources, reform of defence industries, managing the consequences of defence reform, and defence-related aspects of combating terrorism. From 2002 to 2008, a NATO-Russia Resettlement Centre helped facilitate the integration of former Russian military personnel into civilian life by providing information regarding job search and resettlement, training and job placement services. Initially set up in Moscow, its operations were gradually expanded into the regions. Some 2,820 former military personnel from the Russian armed forces were retrained and over 80 per cent found civilian employment.
Defence industrial cooperation: A broad-based "Study on NATO-Russia Defence Industrial and Research and Technological Cooperation", launched in January 2005 and completed in 2007, concluded that there was potential in combining scientific and technological capabilities to address global threats.
Logistics: Opportunities for logistics cooperation were pursued on both the civilian and military side, including areas such as air transport, air-to-air refuelling, medical services and water purification. Meetings and seminars focused on establishing a sound foundation of mutual understanding in the field of logistics by promoting information-sharing in areas such as logistics policies, doctrine, structures and lessons learned.
Civil emergencies: NATO and Russia cooperated between 1996 and 2014 to develop a capacity for joint action in response to civil emergencies, such as earthquakes and floods, and to manage the consequences of terrorist attacks. Moreover, a Russian proposal led to the establishment in 1998 of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre.
Scientific cooperation: Russia was actively engaged with the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme from 1992. Scientists and experts from Russia sought to address a wide range of security issues, notably in the fields of defence against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents, mine detection and counter-terrorism (including explosives detection such as the STANDEX project mentioned above), and environmental and security hazards posed by oil spills and munitions dump sites in the Baltic Sea.
Terminology and language training: To facilitate better understanding of terms and concepts used by NATO and Russia, glossaries were developed on the entire spectrum of NATO-Russia cooperation. Language cooperation was expanded in 2011 with the launch of a project to harmonise language training for military and selected civilian experts at the Russian defence ministry.
Raising public awareness of the NRC: An NRC website was launched in June 2007 to increase public awareness of NRC activities. It was suspended in April 2014.