Russia and NATO launched a new security cooperation forum
today, giving formal substance to the dramatic changes that have
marked Moscow's relations with the West since the September 11
terrorist attacks on America. Our correspondent Jeffrey Donovan, who
is traveling with the U.S. president, files this report from Rome.
Rome, 28 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- NATO and Moscow formally
joined forces today, burying half a century of enmity and launching a
new NATO-Russia Council on security cooperation over a region
reaching from "Vancouver to Vladivostok."
Under unprecedented security measures at an Italian air force base
just south of Rome, NATO's 19 leaders, including U.S. President
George W. Bush, welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin into
Moscow's former enemy alliance as a full and equal member of the new
NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson hailed the new Council as
tearing down a wall of distrust that separated East and West for
nearly 50 years:
"We, meeting here today, are a living contradiction of the forces
which divided and weakened a continent for two generations and for
everyone who despaired during the frozen stretches of the Cold War,
this gathering represents a hope of a better, saner future."
The Council will give Russia an equal voice in a forum that will
replace the Permanent Joint Council, or PJC, which was set up in 1997
partly to soften Russian anger over NATO's first enlargement to
Unlike the PJC, the Council will give Moscow an equal voice on
decisions concerning counter-terrorism, arms control, civil
emergencies, crisis management, peacekeeping, maritime safety and the
spread of nuclear, chemical and biological arms.
But as British Prime Minister Tony Blair emphasized in a front-page
article today in Italy's "Corriere della Sera" daily, Russia will
not have a veto on security issues in the new forum. In case of
disagreement, full NATO members can remove the issue from the forum
for debate among themselves.
And although Russian diplomats will now be lodged at NATO's formerly
off-limits headquarters in Brussels, full NATO members still retain
veto rights on subjects discussed by the Council should they feel
sharing information with Russia acts against their interests.
The Council will convene at least once a month at an ambassadorial
level, with a preparatory committee meeting at least twice a month.
Russian President Putin said the new Council must not commit the
errors of the past, when the great powers were slow to join forces in
the fight against Nazism. Instead, he said it should focus on today's
most urgent concern, international terrorism:
"More than half a century ago, mankind paid with tens of millions of
human lives for the criminal lack of foresight and the slowness of
politicians in combining their efforts to fight a common enemy. Today
we have a task that is of the same historic significance."
U.S. President Bush said NATO and Russia have an "unmistakable"
ability to help each other in the fight against terrorism as well as
in emergency planning, search-and-rescue operations at sea, and
preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction:
"The NATO-Russia Council offers Russia a path toward forming an
alliance with the [NATO] alliance. It offers all our nations a way to
strengthen our common security and it offers the world the prospect
of a more hopeful century."
Bush, who with Putin signed an arms control pact last Friday in
Moscow, also said NATO and Russia would improve their joint efforts
in the Balkans, where he said they should be proud of working
together to establish security.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters after today's
meeting that he hopes Council cooperation will expand as confidence
builds in the months ahead. But he put off answering a reporter's
question on whether this opens the door to future Russian membership
in the alliance.
Prickly issues continue to divide Moscow and NATO, including the
alliance's expected expansion this fall to the former Soviet Baltic
Analysts also say the new Council's cohesion may be tested if the
interests of the two sides diverge, such as over a U.S.-led attack on
In Russia, reaction to the new Council was n-o-t favorable. The
"Nezavisimaya Gazeta" daily wrote in a commentary: "Russia's
relations with the alliance, even in the format of the '20' (as
opposed to 19 + 1), look like a sham."
And a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a television broadcast,
reiterated the country's opposition to NATO expansion. Alexander
Yakovenko said: "We continue to consider NATO expansion a mistake,
particularly because it is unclear what the organization is trying to
defend itself from as it expands."
Today's meeting took place at the Pratica di Mare military airbase
-- Europe's second-largest -- located 30 kilometers south of Rome.
The gathering was held under unprecedented security measures.
Fearing a terrorist attack or even a suicide hijacking, 15,000
police, soldiers and firemen were stationed around Rome and Pratica
di Mare. All Italian airlines and some foreign carriers canceled
their Rome for a period of five hours.