Moscow, 23 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson today met with Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of a three-day mission to Russia aimed at improving ties between Moscow and the military alliance.
Robertson, who arrived on 21 November, praised the pace of talks to involve Russia in the 19-member alliance. Putin in turn thanked Robertson for his work to strengthen the relationship between the Russian government and NATO: "Since our last meeting in Brussels on 3 October, not much time has passed, but the dialogue between NATO and Russia during that time has been progressing very energetically."
Putin, who in the past has openly discussed Russia's wish to join NATO, said it is improved dialogue, rather than an outright entry bid, that his country is pursuing with the alliance: "On the one hand, Russia is not queued up to join NATO; on the other, it is ready to develop relations as far as the North Atlantic alliance is prepared to go."
Robertson, who met yesterday with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, said Russia could be invited to join the alliance in discussions on specific subjects, and may receive some veto power.
Speaking at a press conference following yesterday's meeting with Ivanov, Robertson said that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada, and U.S. President George W. Bush proposed to allow Russian representatives to join the alliance's 19 members states in the NATO Council chamber to discuss specific topics: "On occasion, perhaps on specific subjects, [the Russian Federation] would sit at the round table in the NATO Council. I, as the chairman of the North Atlantic Council, would chair what might be called the Russia-North Atlantic Council -- the RNAC is what has been suggested as the name. That would involve Russia having an equality with the NATO countries in terms of the subject matter."
Robertson did not explain which areas of discussion Russia might be invited to join. But he said the new decision-making mechanism would give Russia a "right of equality" and also the responsibilities and obligations "that would come from being a part of consensus-building organization."
The offer meets Moscow's demands. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 21 November that Moscow was looking for a "new mechanism" with which Russia and NATO countries could discuss issues: "The essence of our proposal consists of creating a new mechanism of equal relations between NATO countries and Russia, so that Russia has the right to vote, if you will, the right to make decisions. In the long term, this may lead to the renunciation of the existing formats of cooperation between Russia and NATO within the framework of the Permanent Joint Council, where this mechanism does not work."
Since 1997, Russia and NATO have held monthly meetings of the Permanent Joint Council. But Moscow has been unhappy with the arrangement, which gives Russia a voice but no veto power. Russia boycotted the Council during the alliance's 1999 air war against Yugoslavia over Kosovo.
Robertson pointed out that any new arrangement will not have Russia joining NATO, but cooperating with it: "President Putin made it very clear to me in Brussels that Russia does not intend to stand in a queue applying for NATO membership. There is only one way of joining NATO, and that is to make an application to join and to accept the standards -- both military but also in the civil side. What the leadership of the NATO countries and the president of the Russian Federation agree is that we are at the moment in an era of unprecedented cooperation."
Robertson also said that the 11 September terrorist attack on the U.S. influenced the alliance's view of the problems Russia is facing in its breakaway republic of Chechnya: "We understand even more graphically what Russia has had to experience from terrorism emanating from Chechnya because of what happened in New York and Washington. We sympathize with Russia, we work alongside Russia in dealing with the terrorist networks that have caused that trouble, but we still retain some concerns about the means that Russia has used to deal with the undoubted problems that it has in Chechnya and that remains our position and hasn't changed at all."
Robertson today held talks with Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo about moves toward cooperation on security issues, including the fight against organized crime and against terrorism.