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Rus Floating New, Old Ideas On NATO, European Security

Munich, March 19 (RFE/RL) - A team of high-ranking Russian officials, talking to German colleagues, is the latest to disclose Russia's ideas on the future security structure of Europe, and Moscow's terms for accepting a limited, eastward expansion of NATO.

They cover such things as limiting NATO expansion to only a few countries of central and eastern Europe and, above all, not to those bordering Russia. Another calls for revision of the 1990 Paris treaty limiting conventional weapons in Europe (CFE). Russia also wants to change the structure of the "Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe"(OSCE), and do away with the current system in which each country, big or small, has an equal vote. Russia proposes that OSCE have a controlling executive including Russia, the U.S. and the European Union (EU).

On this occasion, Russia's ideas were presented at a two-day meeting near Bonn last week. Those participating included high-ranking officials from Moscow, politicians from the three major German political parties, and high-ranking officials from both foreign ministries. The so-called "study conference" was arranged by the Federal Academy for Security Policy, which is a Bonn government organisation.

Political analysts say the ideas discussed in Bonn have also been heard in several other forums recently. For instance, at the OSCE negotiations in Vienna on a European security structure for the 21st Century. U.S. officials have also heard them at various meetings with Russian officials. Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov has raised the ideas with some Central and East European officials.

An analyst at the Institute for Strategic Studies in London said Moscow was following a familiar trail. "Moscow often let its ideas circulate semi-unofficially in various international forums before a final version appears," he said. "It allows Moscow to see what might be acceptable and what needs to be reshaped or adjusted before it is sent out to make the rounds again."

Political analysts say Primakov has been hinting for some time that Russia is quietly stepping back from its policy of total opposition to the eastward expansion of NATO. Apparently, Russia realises that some form of expansion is inevitable. The line Primakov adopted in recent talks with Hungary's Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs was that Central European countries could join NATO, but should not allow other NATO forces or nuclear weapons to be based on their territory. He has suggested that perhaps Central and East European countries might consider joining only the "political structure" of NATO and not its military structure - as France did for years.

German officials say these ideas were floated again in Bonn last week. So was another one heard previously - that any eastward expansion of NATO should exclude the Baltic States, Ukraine and Southern Europe. Russia has made it very clear in a number of forums that no country bordering Russia should be permitted to join NATO. The usual explanation is that Russia "does not want to be surrounded by a ring of enemies."

Last week, Primakov suggested to Poland that instead of joining NATO it should accept a "security guarantee" from Moscow. The Poles rejected the idea. Hungary also told Primakov that Budapest definitely wants to join NATO, and said this was not directed against Moscow.

Another Russian proposal circulating in international forums is for a revision of the 1990 treaty reducing the number of tanks, artillery, armored cars, attack helicopters and warplanes, and their crews, in Europe.

Russia has already refused to honor the restrictions on its armed forces in the southern flank - that is the Caucasus. Negotiations on a compromise have been underway for months, without a solution. Russia has rejected almost all proposals presented by NATO.

The 1990 treaty was between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, and established limits for individual countries and areas. Now, Russia is suggesting that instead of amending the 1990 treaty to take into account the changed political situation, it should be scrapped entirely. Russia suggests it should be replaced by a new agreement in which the military balance is basically between Russia and NATO. Russia does acknowledge that other countries, including the Baltic States and the neutral countries, would have to be fitted into the equation somewhere.

Diplomats say Moscow has raised this suggestion of a Russia-NATO miliatry balance in several forums, including the OSCE military talks, and in Bonn last week.

Some of the other ideas heard from the Russians in Bonn last week have also been around for a while. As long ago as August 1994, Russia circulated a paper suggesting the OSCE should be restructured to do away with the system in which each of the 54 members has an equal vote, whether it is the U.S. superpower or the Mediterranean island of Malta. OSCE also maintains the rule of consensus for many decisions, meaning that two or three states voting "no" can kill a proposal favored by the rest. In 1994, Russia suggested OSCE should have a "governing body with a limited membership similar to the United nations Security Council. In the version heard in Bonn last week, Russia was proposing that OSCE should have a "controlling body" which would include Russia, the U.S. and the EU. Other countries would participate on a rotating basis.

The proposal is directly linked to another old Russian idea - that OSCE should be converted into an umbrella organisation coordinating the work of other European institutions. Russia proposes what it calls a "genuine division of labor" among NATO, CIS members, the EU and other organisations. Together, of course, the two proposals would give Russia an important role in European security.

Other ideas in the Moscow package include a call for a treaty with NATO, which would give Russia a "special relationship." Political analysts say this idea was first floated about two years ago, but has not won much favor in NATO. Russia has also suggested creating a security organisation among CIS members, which would be recognised by NATO as its "opposite number."

The analyst at the Institute for Strategic Studies said Russia can afford to take its time in circulating its ideas and positions. NATO, he notes, has said there will be no concrete moves on enlargement until December at the earliest. the OSCE is taking even longer to draw up its ideas on a security structure for the 21st century. A preliminary report on two year's of discussions is to be presented at a summit meeting in Portugal in December. After that, discussions will continue, probably for another two years.