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Russia: Analysts Pessimistic About NATO Enlargement, NATO-Russia Council

  • Francesca Mereu

Two Russian analysts shared their views with journalists in Moscow yesterday about NATO's likely expansion to include the Baltic states. Vyacheslav Nikonov of the Politika Foundation and Sergei Oznobishev of the Institute for Strategic Assessment both believe such a development will have negative consequences for both NATO and Russia and will result in a "divided Europe."

Moscow, 11 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Vyacheslav Nikonov is president of the Politika Foundation, a think tank with close ties to the Kremlin. At a discussion on NATO enlargement with journalists yesterday in Moscow, Nikonov said Russia has no reason to support expansion to include the Baltic countries, since -- as he put it -- when a "war machine gets closer to your borders, it doesn't make you feel safer."

In addition, Nikonov says NATO's consideration of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as new members doesn't make sense to him, since he believes their inclusion would weaken the alliance from a military standpoint.

"It is evident that NATO enlargement will make the alliance weaker from a military point of view. It is well known that if you attach weaker countries -- from the military point of view -- to a military machine, the entire organization will become weaker, too. This is the reason why the future of NATO's mission is unclear for me."

Nikonov said NATO enlargement will only further isolate Russia, creating a divided Europe. He added that including more former Soviet bloc nations will increase anti-Russia sentiment in NATO, harming relations between Moscow and the alliance.

Enlargement, Nikonov says, also will bring negative consequences for new NATO members, since they will lose their independent voice. In fact, Nikonov says, "NATO itself doesn't take any decisions; the decisions are taken in Washington."

Sergei Oznobishev, the director of the Institute for Strategic Assessment, says old prejudices and fears are still playing a role in the enlargement issue. Oznobishev says that in the 1990s many Western politicians justified NATO enlargement by saying it was necessary to stop Moscow's imperialistic ambitions. Ten years later, he says, this attitude still prevails.

"The present efforts of our Baltic friends towards the North Atlantic Alliance are linked to these [feelings]. We are now conducting a very active dialogue with the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in the framework of the Baltic Forum. And in every meeting, in every conference, someone begins to speak about these fears that still exist against Moscow. I have the feeling that the clock of history has stopped and Russia is seen as the old Soviet Union, as if it could still mentally and physically threaten anybody."

Oznobishev says these fears are unjustified. Russia is now an ally of the West. But even if Russian President Vladimir Putin has chosen a pro-Western policy -- against the advice of Russia's political elites and the military -- Western countries still look at Russia with suspicion.

Oznobishev notes Russia is trying to have closer relations with NATO, exemplified by a summit in Rome in May, when the new NATO-Russia Council was created. The council gives Moscow a voice on a range of issues, such as counterterrorism, peacekeeping, and arms control. But Oznobishev says the council is only a bureaucratic structure without practical tasks.

Oznobishev says this fact was confirmed during a conference in Brussels when he asked NATO Secretary-General George Robertson to explain how the new structure will work.

"Mr. Robertson's answer to my question about how this new Russia-NATO Council is going to work and how decisions are going to be taken made me worried. I didn't get an answer to this question, but instead a 15-minute lecture about perspectives and the triumph of democracy on the entire European continent, including Russia up to the Urals."

Nikonov of the Politika Foundation also criticized the new NATO-Russia Council, saying Moscow won't be given either decision-making powers or the ability to influence future events. For example, he says, Russia's opinions about NATO enlargement weren't taken into account before and won't be in the future.

"In my opinion, the [NATO-Russia Council, or the so-called] '20 Formula' is a good deal, but so far it is just a piece of paper. I have to admit that I'm a NATO skeptic, and I don't believe something good will result from the NATO-Russia Council. This [council] means that Russia will be given the possibility to make decisions concerning antiterrorist operations and issues on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But it is evident that antiterrorism and nonproliferation are not the main problems for European security. Important problems will be discussed at another table without the participation of Russia."

In any event, Nikonov says Russian cooperation with NATO is not so important.

"I think that NATO has a peripheral role in [Russia's] relations with the West. Two months ago, I published an article called, 'Why Do We Need NATO?' I can't see any practical meaning in this partnership."

Nikonov says that if Russia didn't enjoy friendly relations with NATO, nothing terrible would happen. He says that in the contemporary world, healthy bilateral relations are more important.