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Analysis From Washington - New Moves On The NATO Board

  • Paul Goble

Washington, June 19 (RFE/RL) - In the wake of the Russian presidential vote, Moscow has added three new elements to its campaign against NATO expansion: a new look for the leadership of the Russian military, an implied threat on Russian cooperation concerning Bosnia, and the offer of a grand bargain with the West if NATO does not expand eastward.

As part of his compact with Aleksandr Lebed, who finished third in the first round of the Russian presidential balloting, Boris Yeltsin has sacked his unpopular defense minister Pavel Grachev, thus removing from the scene a man whose personal style often seemed by itself to justify those who continue to see a Russian threat to Eastern Europe.

In his stead, Yeltsin has named as acting defense minister, General Mikhail Kolesnikov, a popular professional soldier who comes across as just that. While he will be just as stout as Grachev in opposing NATO expansion, he will deliver that message in a way that is less likely to undercut his own words.

And Kolesnikov's very professionalism will only be reinforced by the kind of Russian soldiers who are now likely to be assigned as liaison officers at NATO headquarters in Belgium.

A second new element in Moscow's campaign was provided last Friday by Grachev himself. Unlike him, it is unlikely to disappear from the scene. That concerns an implicit threat by Moscow to revisit the question of its cooperation with NATO on Bosnia should the alliance decide to take in new members.

In his speech to NATO officials, Grachev said that Moscow would insist on getting a new mandate for the Bosnia operation from the U.N. Security Council -- where Russia has a veto -- if the NATO forces remained in the former Yugoslavia longer than originally planned.

Given the sensitivity of the Bosnia issue in both Europe and the United States and the desire of both to make sure that the situation there does not deteriorate later this year, that is a powerful negotiating tool for the Russians to employ.

But it is the third element -- a Russian suggestion that Moscow and NATO could reach a kind of grand bargain if NATO does not expand -- that is likely to have the greatest impact both on the alliance's decision making and on security in the region.

As outlined by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeniy Primakov and more explicitly described by Yeltsin advisor Sergey Karaganov, the bargain the Russians propose would contain both a "16 plus 1" accord between Moscow and NATO and a Russian signal that it would devote most of its energies toward the south rather than toward the west.

As described by Karaganov in recent articles, the first of these elements would serve as the basis for a new security architecture in Europe, one in which NATO would continue to exist -- something the West wants -- but in which it would no longer have the same meaning -- obviously Moscow's goal.

And the second would allow Moscow to avoid a direct clash with NATO in Eastern Europe while portraying itself as a defender of the West against Iran and Islamic fundamentalism. Obviously such an implicit bargain would entail serious consequences for the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

The implicit and, in Karaganov's case, explicit threat behind all this is that if NATO takes in any new members, Russia will increase its pressure on Ukraine and the Baltic states -- something that would challenge the West in direct and fundamental ways.

Such arguments will only gain in strength if, as expected, Yeltsin wins the second round of the presidential vote. In that event, many in the West will be even less interested in taking a step certain to offend the first democratically elected president in Russian history.