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Bowing Out, NATO's Man In Moscow On Deteriorating Ties

Robert Pszczel, the director of the NATO Information Center in Moscow, who has stepped down after four years in the job.
Robert Pszczel, the director of the NATO Information Center in Moscow, who has stepped down after four years in the job.

The outgoing NATO envoy in Russia says persistent mistrust is the chief roadblock in the military alliance's ties with Moscow but that the two sides must keep channels of communication open.

"I would call it a frozen partnership. I don't want to call it confrontation, I hope it is not a confrontation, but there is a tension. And the main problem is lack of trust," Robert Pszczel told RFE/RL's Current Time television on June 5, his last working day as head of the NATO outpost in Moscow.

Pszczel, a 52-year-old native of Poland, arrived in December 2010 to run NATO's information office in Moscow following a Lisbon summit that produced a declaration of a new era of "strategic partnership" between NATO and Russia.

That cooperation has since dissipated in the wake of the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea territory and the war between Kyiv's forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that the UN says has killed more than 6,400 people since April 2014.

"We had a number of activities in different areas of cooperation like fighting against terrorism, support to Afghanistan, fighting against piracy, and so on," Pszczel said. "That's where we were just four or even two years ago. Unfortunately, we are in a different place now."

NATO, Kyiv, and Western governments accuse Russia of providing weapons, training, and personnel to the separatists in eastern Ukraine, an assertion the Kremlin rejects despite mounting evidence pointing to Moscow's military involvement in the conflict.

Russian officials, meanwhile, accuse NATO, the United States, and the EU of inciting the conflict by backing a pro-Western government in Kyiv that Moscow considers illegal.

Fresh Hostilities

Fresh hostilities between Ukrainian forces and the separatists erupted this week, raising concerns that a February cease-fire brokered in Minsk, which led to a sharp reduction in fighting despite frequent violations, might fall apart entirely.

Pszczel echoed other Western officials in placing the onus on Moscow to bring a resolution to the conflict.

"It is not a difficult thing [to do]," he said. "Just stop supporting … separatists in [eastern] Ukraine. This a very easy thing. That is why Russia has a big responsibility for the [implementation] of the Minsk agreements that we all support. So, it is really easy. Just the political will is needed."

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Pszczel said there is "full interest from NATO headquarters" in Brussels to keep its Moscow bureau up and running, noting that "a delegation of Russia to NATO is still functioning."

"We need to maintain such opportunities [for communication] and keep these channels open," he said.

Looking back at his more than four years in Moscow, Pszczel expressed a certain nostalgia when comparing the circumstances of his arrival to those of his exit.

"Of course, I would prefer to leave [Russia] at such a moment when the relations between NATO and Russia would have been the same as they were when I started my term," he said.

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