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Russia: Analysis From Washington--The Russian Response To NATO Expansion

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 2 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov acknowledged last week that Moscow is "powerless" to prevent NATO expansion. But he warned that Russia would adopt a variety of countermeasures if the Western alliance goes ahead with its plans to give membership to any East European country.

In recent days, Russian officials and Russian actions have provided some additional clues as to just what these Russian countermeasures might be.

Primakov himself told journalists in New York that any expansion of NATO would inevitably lead to a new "freeze" in relations between Moscow and the West -- although he hastened to add that this cooling would not mean a resumption of the Cold War.

But precisely because this threat is so general and has been made so often, it carries relatively little weight.

More serious and specific are the implications of remarks Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov made at the NATO ministerial in Norway last week. In blunt language, Rodionov argued that any NATO expansion would inevitably violate the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe accord.

The obvious import of his words is that Moscow would then feel itself free to violate the CFE accord as well and would move additional Russian military forces westward both within the borders of the Russian Federation -- including Kaliningrad -- and into neighboring states such as Belarus with which Moscow already has close military ties.

Expanding on this point, several Russian military officers and diplomats in recent weeks have indicated that if Poland becomes a member of NATO, Russia would certainly beef up its forces in Kaliningrad. And they have suggested that Moscow would demand expanded transit rights across Lithuania, Russia's only landbridge to Kaliningrad. Such a possibility has already frightened many in Lithuania.

But in addition to these political and military steps, Moscow has shown its readiness to use a variety of other measures to project its power and influence westward as NATO considers moving to the east.

On Sunday, Finnish secret police chief Seppo Nevala said that Moscow has dramatically increased its intelligence operations in Finland and other Nordic countries. At present, Nevala said, Russian operatives use the region as a "training ground" before moving on to other Western countries.

Not surprisingly, Nevala provided few details, but he did say that Russian intelligence organizations operating there regularly employ illegal methods, an apparent suggestion that they are involved not only in the gathering of intelligence but in active measures of various kinds.

Quite obviously, in the event of NATO expansion, Russian intelligence activities would likely increase dramatically in the former Soviet republics and the Baltic states. And there these activities would likely be directed not only at intelligence gathering but at the destabilization of these often still weak states as well.

And on Monday, yet another face of the Russian response to NATO enlargement became visible. In recent weeks, Russian borderguard units have blocked the establishment of a rapid clearing system for trucks crossing the Russo-Finnish border.

Such nominally low-level obstructions to the movement of goods and services across international boundaries are yet another device that Moscow could use to bring economic and ultimately political pressure to bear on those East European states which may not be included in the alliance in the first round.

Primakov's confession of Moscow's powerlessness to block NATO expansion thus does not mean that Moscow will do nothing. Indeed, his words and the words and actions of other Russian officials demonstrate that Moscow can and will respond in ways that will directly threaten Russia's neighbors if not yet the West.

But because such threats to Russia's neighbors will inevitably have an impact on European security, the Western alliance will have to take the possibility of such moves into account as it decides whom to include as its first new members and what to do about those states not among that select group.