Relations with Russia
For more than 30 years, NATO tried to build a partnership with Russia, developing dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest. Despite this, over the past decade, Russia has continuously violated the norms and principles that contributed to a stable and predictable European security order. Russia’s brutal and unlawful war of aggression against Ukraine has shattered peace and gravely altered the security environment. In light of its hostile policies and actions, NATO cannot consider Russia to be a partner. The Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. However, NATO remains willing to keep open channels of communication with Moscow to manage and mitigate risks, prevent escalation and increase transparency. NATO does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia. The Alliance will continue to respond to Russian threats and hostile actions in a united and responsible way.
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- Following the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, NATO tried to build a partnership and pursue dialogue with Russia, including through the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), a forum for consultation on security issues and cooperation.
- However, in response to Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine and illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, NATO suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia in April 2014, while keeping open channels of political and military communication.
- NATO condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which gravely undermines international security and stability, and is a blatant violation of international law. Russia must immediately stop this war and withdraw from Ukraine.
- In addition to its brutal and unlawful war against Ukraine, Russia’s behaviour reflects a pattern of aggressive actions against its neighbours and the wider transatlantic community. In light of its hostile policies and actions, the Alliance cannot consider Russia to be a partner.
- The Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia seeks to establish spheres of influence and direct control through coercion, subversion, aggression and annexation. It uses conventional, cyber and hybrid means against NATO member countries and partners. Its coercive military posture, rhetoric and proven willingness to use force to pursue its political goals undermine the rules-based international order.
- However, Allies remain willing to keep open channels of communication with Moscow to manage and mitigate risks, prevent escalation and increase transparency.
- NATO seeks stability and predictability in the Euro-Atlantic area and between NATO and Russia. Any change in the NATO-Russia relationship depends on the Russian Federation halting its aggressive behaviour and fully complying with international law.
Response to Russia’s war on Ukraine
NATO condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which gravely undermines international security and stability, and is a blatant violation of international law. NATO Allies call on President Putin to immediately stop the war, withdraw all his forces from Ukraine, and engage in good faith in diplomatic efforts.
Furthermore, NATO calls on Russia to fully respect international humanitarian law and to allow safe, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access and assistance to all persons in need. Russia’s appalling cruelty has caused immense human suffering and massive displacements, disproportionately affecting women and children. Russia bears full responsibility for this humanitarian catastrophe. Allies are working with relevant stakeholders in the international community to hold accountable all those responsible for war crimes, including conflict-related sexual violence. Russia has also intentionally exacerbated a food and energy crisis, affecting billions of people around the world, including through its military actions. Allies are working closely to support international efforts to enable exports of Ukrainian grain and to alleviate the global food crisis.
Russia’s actions pose a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security, and they will have geostrategic consequences. In February 2022, Allies adopted an unprecedented package of restrictive measures, including massive and severe economic sanctions, which are helping starve the Kremlin’s war machine of resources. Allies continue to refine the sanctions in order to increase the pressure on Moscow. These efforts will make it harder for Russia to rebuild its tanks, manufacture missiles and finance its war.
NATO will continue to protect its populations and defend every inch of Allied territory at all times. NATO has increased its military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance as a direct result of Russia’s behaviour, which reflects a pattern of aggressive actions against its neighbours and the wider transatlantic community. In response to the increased instability and insecurity along NATO’s periphery, Allied Heads of State and Government agreed at the 2016 Warsaw Summit to establish NATO’s forward presence in the northeast and southeast of the Alliance. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, NATO has deployed additional defensive land and air forces to the eastern part of the Alliance, as well as additional maritime assets. Allies have increased the readiness of forces to respond to all contingencies. At the 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid, NATO leaders agreed to set a new baseline for the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture to ensure the security and defence of all Allies for the long term. This includes deploying additional robust, in-place, combat-ready forces on the Alliance’s eastern flank.
Russia’s brutal actions against Ukraine have escalated since February 2022, but its war of aggression has been ongoing since 2014. 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 – including through the NATO-Russia Council for discussions on the situation in and around Ukraine and its implications for European security. At the NATO Summit in Wales in September 2014 and at subsequent summits since then, Allied leaders have condemned Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. Allies have called on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, end its illegal occupation of Crimea, and comply with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities.
NATO also condemns Russia’s decision to extend recognition to the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s support to separatist groups – which has included weapons, equipment, personnel and money – has further violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Allies will never accept this illegal recognition.
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, and call for those directly and indirectly responsible to be held accountable and brought to justice as soon as possible. Allies stand in solidarity with the Netherlands and Australia, which have called on Russia to take State responsibility for the downing of flight MH17.
NATO Allies also condemned Russia's unjustified use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel near the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait in November 2018. In line with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 73/194 from 17 December 2018, Allies called on Russia to unconditionally release the Ukrainian crew members it detained, to return the captured vessels and to comply with its international commitments by ensuring unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov and allowing freedom of navigation. Allies also condemned Russia's construction of the Kerch Strait bridge, which represents another violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Following this event, NATO Foreign Ministers agreed in April 2019 a package of measures to improve NATO’s situational awareness in the Black Sea region and strengthen support for Ukraine and Georgia.
From April 2021 until Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Allies continued to urge Russia to immediately reverse its massive military build-up in and around Ukraine. Allies also called on Russia to cease its provocations and to immediately de-escalate tensions on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally annexed Crimea, and to choose the path of diplomacy.
Wider concerns about Russia’s behaviour
NATO’s concerns go well beyond Russia’s activities in Ukraine.
In addition to 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 deployed in all three countries without their consent.
Russia is also challenging Euro-Atlantic security and stability through hybrid actions, including attempted interference in the election processes and the sovereignty of NATO Allies and partner countries, widespread disinformation campaigns, coercive manipulation of energy supplies and food systems, and malicious cyber activities.
Russia is also modernising its nuclear forces and expanding its novel and disruptive dual-capable delivery systems, while employing coercive nuclear signalling.
Moscow’s behaviour reflects a pattern of Russian aggressive actions against its neighbours and the wider transatlantic community. Russia aims to destabilise countries to NATO’s east and south. In the High North, its capability to disrupt Allied reinforcements and freedom of navigation across the North Atlantic is a strategic challenge to the Alliance. Moscow’s military build-up, including in the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean Sea regions, along with its military integration with Belarus, challenge Allied security and interests. NATO cannot discount the possibility of an attack against Allies’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.
This pattern of aggressive behaviour by Russia has grown more and more provocative over the past decade, with increasing examples of Russia’s willingness to violate the norms and principles that contributed to a stable and predictable European security order.
In March 2018, the Allies condemned the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Salisbury and expressed 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 from 30 to 20 people. This number was further reduced from 20 to 10 people in October 2021, after eight members of the Russian Mission to NATO were identified as Russian intelligence agents.
On 4 September 2020, the North Atlantic Council issued a statement condemning the nerve gas attack on Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny as a clear breach of international law, and contrary to the Chemical Weapons Convention. NATO Allies called for Russia to show full transparency and bring those responsible to justice. They also urged Russia to disclose any relevant information to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
In April 2021, NATO Allies issued a statement of solidarity with the Czech Republic following a briefing by the Czech Foreign Minister on activities by Russian operatives that resulted in the explosions of ammunition storage depots at Vrbetice in 2014, causing the deaths of two people who worked at the site.
These concerns are 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 selective implementation of the Vienna Document, and its long-standing non-implementation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, actions that undermine Euro-Atlantic security. Allies repeatedly called on Russia to return to full compliance with its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty, and in June 2021, expressed their deep regret regarding Russia’s decision to withdraw from the Treaty, instead of returning to full compliance. Russia’s withdrawal from the Treaty became effective on 18 December 2021.
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 2019, the United States decided to withdraw from the 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 attacks 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.
In November 2021, NATO Allies condemned Russia’s reckless and irresponsible anti-satellite missile test of 15 November 2021. This test caused an orbital debris field that significantly increased risk to human life and to the space-based assets of numerous countries and entities. This dangerous behaviour directly contradicted Russia’s claims to oppose the “weaponisation” of space and undermined the rules-based international order. NATO Allies remain committed to protecting and preserving the peaceful access to and exploration of space for all humanity.
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 its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians, to focus its efforts on fighting the 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.
At the Madrid Summit in June 2022 – and in the 2022 Strategic Concept, which describes the security environment facing the Alliance and guides NATO’s strategic direction for the future – Allied leaders stated clearly that the Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. They committed to continue countering Russian threats and responding to its hostile actions in a manner consistent with international law.
Evolution of relations
NATO-Russia relations started after the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, 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, including by establishing the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council (PJC) as a forum for consultation and cooperation.
Russia froze its relations with NATO because of differences over the Kosovo crisis in 1999, but resumed cooperation activities – including participation in the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) – and meetings within the PJC following the end of NATO’s air campaign in Kosovo.
Dialogue and cooperation were strengthened in 2002, when the PJC was replaced by the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), established by the 2002 Rome Declaration to serve as a forum for consultation, consensus-building, cooperation, joint decision-making and joint action. Within the NRC, the individual NATO member states and Russia have worked as equal partners on a wide spectrum of security issues of common interest.
To facilitate regular contacts and cooperation, NATO and Russia agreed to create political and military channels of communication. To that end, Russia established a diplomatic mission to NATO in 1998. NATO opened an Information Office in Moscow (NIO) in 2001 and a Military Liaison Mission (MLM) in 2002.
The NIO served as the focal point for disseminating information within Russia on NATO, contributing to the Russian public’s understanding of evolving relations between the Russian Federation and NATO. The NIO contributed to these objectives by distributing NATO official information through print and digital channels to the Russian public, sponsoring communications projects by Russian non-governmental organisations and providing information on NATO’s educational and scientific programmes for Russian institutions and potential Russian applicants. It also organised visits for Russian visitors to NATO Headquarters in Brussels and other NATO sites, as well as for NATO representatives to the Russian Federation.
The MLM contributed to NATO-Russia relations by maintaining an open channel of communication between NATO's Military Committee in Brussels and the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. Maintaining a channel of military-to-military communication helped to increase predictability and reduce the risk of misunderstandings that could lead to conflicts.
Russia's disproportionate military action in Georgia in August 2008 led to the temporary suspension of formal meetings of the NRC and cooperation in some areas; meetings and cooperation resumed in spring 2009. The Allies continue to condemn Russia’s decision to recognise the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
All practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia was suspended in April 2014, in response to Russia’s military intervention and aggressive actions in Ukraine, and its illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, which NATO will never recognise.
In October 2021, Russia suspended the work of its diplomatic mission to NATO, and required NATO to close down the NATO Information Office in Moscow and suspend the work of the NATO Military Liaison Mission in Moscow. NATO regrets Russia’s decision to curtail political channels of communication and dialogue. NATO remains committed to making good use of the existing military lines of communication between both sides to promote predictability and transparency, and to reduce risks, and calls on Russia to do so as well.
Through its war of aggression against Ukraine, Russia has rejected the path of diplomacy and dialogue repeatedly offered to it by NATO and Allies. It has fundamentally violated international law, including the United Nations Charter. Russia’s actions are also a flagrant rejection of the principles enshrined in the NATO-Russia Founding Act; it is Russia that has walked away from its commitments under the Founding Act. Any change in the NATO-Russia relationship depends on the Russian Federation halting its aggressive behaviour and fully complying with international law.
Key areas of cooperation prior to April 2014
Until the suspension of activities in April 2014, NATO and Russia cooperated in a wide range of areas:
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, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It was implemented in cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 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.
Combatting 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 issues including 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, combatting terrorism, search and rescue at sea, countering piracy, theatre missile defence/ballistic 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 combatting 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 sides, 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 (SPS) 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. Through an SPS research grant, NATO also supported the work of a Russian scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics, Professor Zhores Alferov.
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.