Prague, 16 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - NATO and Russia have agreed to cooperate as the Alliance readies for expansion in the East.
The agreement was reached two days ago in Moscow after months of difficult negotiations, finally producing the "Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security" between the two sides. It provides opportunities for extensive interaction although is short on specifics and stops short of ensuring full implementation.
The agreement is "political," meaning that it is not legally binding. It creates a sort of a political bond between the two sides, but will not be formally ratified by separate countries. It could conceivably be ignored by any of them if they feel their security is in danger.
According to excerpts made public yesterday, the accord is rooted in "an enduring political commitment" undertaken by the two sides "to build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area, on the principles of democracy and cooperative security."
This commitment has found a practical expression in the decision to set up a permanent NATO-Russia Council to provide a forum for regular consultations on political and security issues, and for working together on issues of common concern.
The Council is to meet at a ministerial level (Foreign and Defense) twice annually. and also monthly at the ambassadorial level. It is to be chaired jointly by NATO's Secretary General, a representative of one of the NATO member states on a rotation basis, and a representative of Russia. But neither NATO nor Russia will have "a right to veto the actions of the other or restrict its right to independent decision making and action." This means that Russia will be unable to block NATO actions it may oppose.
The accord has been widely regarded as a means to placate Russia's concerns about NATO's plans to expand in the East. There is no direct reference in the text to the enlargement, but the issue is addressed clearly and unequivocally in the section dealing with the need for military restraint and transparency in security operations.
NATO said that it "has no intention, no plan and no reason," either to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members, or establish nuclear weapon storage sites, as well as to adapt old storage sites there.
Moreover, the text of the agreement does not even so much as hint at any limitation of future expansion. This means that countries not included in the first wave of accession can and are likely to be considered as potential NATO applicants.
The accord confirms the willingness, and the determination, of both sides to work on reducing the number of troops and amount of weaponry in the Euro-Atlantic area, largely through on-going negotiations on conventional forces in Europe.
NATO pledged to refrain from additional stationing of "substantial combat forces" on the territory of new members. But the agreement also said that NATO retains "the right to ensure inter-operability, integration, and capability for reinforcement" of troops throughout the area, and to build and modernize military installations in all member states to ensure the effectiveness of its "collective defense and other missions." Russia was strongly opposed those plans during the negotiations. In the end, it appears to have accepted NATO's view.
The agreement sets the stage for a signing ceremony May 27 in Paris to be attended by Presidents Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, along with heads of state and/or government from all NATO member states.
Six weeks later NATO's summit in Madrid is to issue invitation to some Central European states -- most probably the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland -- to open membership negotiations. This, says the "New York Times," a major American newspaper, "will set in motion an epochal change in the map of Europe." Indeed, as a result of this move the European security situation is certain to change dramatically and, one can assume, irrevocably.