Moscow, 24 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking to reporters after talks with NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Kremlin today, President Vladimir Putin was quick to praise what he called Russia’s “successfully developing” relations with NATO.
Scheffer also said he was satisfied with the performance of the Russia-NATO Council, set up in 2002. "I think I can really say if I look at the...council, our cooperation is developing well, both in the practical and political fields," Scheffer said.
Putin stressed fighting terrorism was one of the top priorities in Russia-NATO relations. He voiced satisfaction at cooperation in this field, saying agreements had translated into concrete actions.
"We emphasized [during talks] the fight against terrorism among our priority tasks and I am pleased to note that we have proceeded from general declarations to concrete joint work, for example Russia's participation in the alliance's joint operation in the Mediterranean Sea which is aimed at preventing acts of terror at sea," Putin said.
His comment echoed declarations made earlier in the day by de Hoop Scheffer ahead of a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He had called on Russia to help NATO fight terrorism and stem the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Putin said another central task for Russia and NATO was to stem drug trade from Afghanistan, which has boomed since the U.S.-led war toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. Russian authorities say increasing amounts of narcotics are entering Russia from Afghanistan through former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
"If Russia and NATO developed and implemented a pilot project for personnel training for antidrug agencies in Afghanistan and, let's say, Central Asia, I think this would be a good contribution to resolving one of today's most important and serious problems, the fight against drugs," Putin said.
"There will not be any breakthrough, but conflicts can arise if such talks are not constantly carried out. It is like watering one's vegetable patch. Does it have serious, visible consequences? No. But if you don't do it, everything dries up." - Markov
De Hoop Scheffer called the proposal "a good project” and described the traffic of narcotics as “a very destabilizing factor” in Afghanistan and in Central Asia.
Putin’s tone today was significantly softer than yesterday. Speaking at a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Moscow, he had criticized what he called “extremely low” effectiveness of international efforts in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.
He had also voiced strong concern over the fact that terrorists were being trained in Afghanistan, adding that foreign intelligence services were sometimes directly involved. He did not name any specific countries.
At Yesterday’s CSTO summit, Putin had also said he intended to propose that NATO cooperate with the CSTO. The CSTO includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.
Sergei Markov, the director of the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow, says the goal of such cooperation would be to increase the CSTO’s international standing. But he says a NATO-CSTO partnership could also be very useful in fighting terrorism and the drug trade in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
“The main goal of this cooperation is the legitimization of the Collective Security Treaty, increasing its recognition in the world. This cooperation could imply mainly joint military exercises, exchanges of missions and information, and, what is very important, coordination in the fight against the transit of drugs, illegal weapons and rebels in the region of the border between Afghanistan and Central Asian,” Markov said.
On the eve of his visit with the Russian leaders, de Hoop Scheffer had signaled his intention to raise NATO’s concern about the suppression of a recent uprising in Uzbekistan. NATO and Western countries have called for an international investigation into the events, but Russia has strongly backed the Uzbek government and blamed the violence on terrorists.
Another bone of contention between NATO and Russia is NATO’s refusal to ratify an amended version of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, an agreement signed in 1990 that limits the deployment of non-nuclear weapons.
The agreement was modified in 1999 to reflect geo-political changes after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But NATO has refused to ratify the amended version of the treaty, saying Russia breaches it by failing to pullout its troops from the former Soviet republic of Moldova.
Like most observers, political expert Sergei Markov expects little breakthrough from today’s talks. “These are normal, regular talks between the leaders of these huge military machines," he said. "There will not be any breakthrough, but conflicts can arise if such talks are not constantly carried out. It is like watering one’s vegetable patch. Does it have serious, visible consequences? No. But if you don’t do it, everything dries up.”
Viktor Kremenyuk, the deputy head of the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow, agrees that significant progress in NATO-Russian relations was not on the cards today. But he said the meeting was nonetheless important in defining the future of these relations.
“I think the most important issue is where to go from here," Kremenyuk told RFE/RL. "Many consider that this [Russia-NATO] Council did what it could but that no major development has taken place. Many differences and much distrust remain. They need to move ahead, and in this sense this meeting is very important. But I don’t think a serious breakthrough is possible right now.”
Kremenyuk says relations between NATO and Russia are becoming increasingly bureaucratic, slowing down the concrete implementation of agreements.