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Russia: Head Of Mission In Moscow Discusses New Joint Council

  • Francesca Mereu

NATO leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty in Rome in May creating the NATO-Russia Council, a new partnership that gives Russia "junior-partner" status with the 19 alliance members of NATO. The council will establish policy on a range of issues, including counterterrorism, regional emergencies, and arms control. Major General Peter Williams, head of the newly opened NATO Military Liaison Mission in Moscow, said that so far it is unclear how this new structure will work and how it will differ from the former Permanent Joint Council established between NATO and Russia in 1997.

Moscow, 1 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The May summit in Rome between Russia and NATO ushered in a new era of cooperation, according to Major General Peter Williams, head of the newly opened NATO Military Liaison Mission in Moscow.

Reflecting the transformed relationship between NATO and Russia after 11 September, the leaders of 19 NATO countries established a new NATO-Russia Council giving Moscow a voice on a range of issues such as counterterrorism, peacekeeping, and arms control.

Answering the question of how the new NATO-Russia Council will work, Williams said the less formal Permanent Joint Council between NATO and Russia, which was established in 1997 and had its last meeting in May, is being revised. But so far, he said, it is unclear how it is going to change. "There is already an existing program under the old Permanent Joint Council on military work. And this existing work plan is being revised now, following the summit in Rome and the establishment of the Russia-NATO Council. And until we see exactly how this plan has changed from the previous plan, it would be difficult to say if there are many new tasks, but there will be some, I am sure," Williams said.

But Williams said the alliance and Russia are "not moving from nowhere to somewhere," but are simply increasing and improving the quality of their cooperative relationship. He said, for example, that a lot of work has been done on the area of concepts for peacekeeping operations. "This work," he said, "will continue at 20 in the way that previously was carried out at 19 plus one." Moreover, he said, there is a lot of work ongoing in the area of counterterrorism.

Williams said there are a lot of opportunities for Russia to participate in NATO activities and that he hopes that with the new political climate there will be an intensification of it. But only results can tell whether the new NATO-Russia Council will indeed be of new quality, Williams said.

According to the communique issued in Rome, Williams said, there are nine areas in which the alliance and Russia will cooperate. But first of all, he added, the governments have to provide hard cash, if they want to realize the commitment to defense cooperation made at the NATO-Russia Council's founding summit. "The communique that was issued in Rome mentions nine specific areas of cooperation between NATO and Russia dealing with these things at 20. Not all these nine areas are obviously military areas, but we already have activities that could be activated under seven of these nine categories, [which are] military activities. And [the] task of the military aspects of the NATO-Russian Council [is] to try to implement what is politically possible under this new arrangement. There is no lack of military enthusiasm. It is a question of what is actually decided by the political levels in the NATO-Russia Council. And I would say that at the end of the day, all such activities require money. The reality is whether there is money that can be directed to implement such initiatives," Williams said.

Williams said that the seven military areas include counterterrorism operations, the struggle against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, discussions about defense reforms, and a series of potential activities concerning these areas. These activities, he said, are also identified in the existing work program of the former joint council. But, he said, the main challenge is now to implement what wasn't implemented in the past. The civil areas include search-and-rescue operations and civil emergencies.

In a first step, Williams said the two sides agreed last month to create an international sea-rescue service, to respond to disasters like the August 2000 loss of Russia's "Kursk" nuclear submarine, in which all 118 crew members perished. Moreover, Williams said he hopes to see improvements in the air-transport area. "I recently attended a seminar in St. Petersburg which is taking forward work on search-and-rescue for submarines. We also hope to see some concrete movement in the area of air transport, where both NATO and Russia have assets that are capable of working together. We are here to help the intensification of an already existing process," Williams said.

As far as the air-transport area is concerned, Williams said, Russian authorities have shown interest in it.

There is one new area that the Russian authorities have shown an interest in and that is the area of air transportation. At the moment, it is not clear from the Russian side exactly in what area of this large subject they wish to see some action. We, in the Military Liaison Mission, are ready to push our masters in Brussels to deliver concrete results in this area," Williams said.

Williams explained that NATO experts came to Moscow last year to discuss air-transport issues such as giant military cargo planes and midair refueling aircraft -- areas where both Russian armed forces and NATO have considerable experience. Williams said that Russian authorities are probably interested in the air-to-air refueling aspect. But he said it is still not clear if NATO and Russia are capable of operating together in these fields. Williams said he is "cautiously optimistic," because an agreement in the area "would require the consensus of 20 sitting around the table in Brussels," and this could be hard to get.

Russian journalists asked if NATO is going to buy Russian weapons and help boost Russia's defense sector, which is suffering from lack of state orders and is ready to expand its $4 billion in annual exports into NATO countries. But Williams said that NATO doesn't have a procurement budget and that military expenditure is a matter for national governments.

Independent defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told RFE/RL that so far, it is unclear what the difference will be between the new NATO-Russia Council and the old Permanent Joint Council. "It is unclear what [this new Russia-NATO Council] is going to be in real terms and who is going to have real control of the situation. [It is unclear] whether it will be a new and closer cooperation between Russia and the NATO countries, or whether it is going to be like it was before: only discussion and useless talking," Felgenhauer said.

Representatives from Moscow first took part in meetings at NATO in 1991, as part of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. In 1997, the NATO-Russia Founding Act established a NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council.