Russia-NATO relations need rethinking – Lavrov

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On Monday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said relations between Russia, the EU and NATO need to be fundamentally reconsidered. What kind of role has NATO been playing in the Ukraine crisis and what are the prospects for further Russian-NATO cooperation, if any? 

Radio VR discusses this with Alastair Crooke, political analyst, the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, and an advisor to Javier Solana, High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union (1997-2003), and Marcel De Hass, Senior Research Associate at the Clingendael Security and Conflict Programme, retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Netherlands Army.

“These relations require essential rethinking and with both our partners in the European Union and with NATO member states we are trying to conduct an analysis in order to better understand where we are, what our coinciding assessments are, and where we have disagreements,” Mr. Lavrov said. 

NATO has been using the Ukraine crisis as a pretext to proceed with its eastward expansion. The Alliance has been building up its presence along the Russian borders …to defend its actual and potential members against “any Russian aggression.”

Last month, NATO foreign ministers said they were suspending cooperation and military ties with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, but would continue contacts of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) at the level of ambassadors and higher. Earlier this week NATO Secretary General Anders fog Rasmussen signaled intention to hold a NATO-Russia council meeting after the election in Ukraine, scheduled for May, 25.

Russia suggested the Council could meet earlier…

Marcel De Hass, Senior Research Associate at the Clingendael Security and Conflict Programme, retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Netherlands Army:

– Here, there is of course a dilemma. I fully agree with NATO, with the harsh stance they’ve taken towards Russia, including refusing access to the Russian diplomats in a huge way and postponing all cooperation between NATO and Russia, on the one hand. I think that’s the right course to take, because what Russia is doing in and around Ukraine is against the international law.

However, and this is my disagreement with NATO, I think that certain aspects of cooperation that have a global impact should be continued. And more specifically, I mean the cooperation between NATO and Russia on the future of Afghanistan – the post-2014 Afghanistan, when a larger part of NATO and the US forces are withdrawn. I think that is very important.

Another topic is the cooperation on the destruction of the chemical weapons of Syria. That is also a matter of global security importance. And I think that NATO should continue that in spite of, let’s say, the quarrels with Russia. These two topics are so far-reaching, that they go beyond the dispute between NATO and Russia.

This is a very interesting statement you are making. But I can also see some inner contradiction in it, because you are speaking about cooperation, but that actually implies certain level of trust between the partners. What do we do about – trust?

I would dare to say that even without trust there is a clear necessity, let’s take the case of Afghanistan, to cooperate. Whether you like each other or not, there is a necessity, because in the case of Afghanistan there are clear threats, which are imminent, are valid for both parties involved – both for Russia and the West, NATO-US.

Both are facing, when the NATO-US forces withdraw, a threat of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The Taliban might regain power in Kabul. And the other threat is of course the production of narcotics and trafficking, and all that. I know that Russia is suffering heavily from Afghanistan drugs already. So, in both cases – narcotics and Taliban\Al-Qaeda – the West and Russia are facing the same threats.

So, even without any level of trust, there is a necessity for both parties in this case to cooperate, whether they like it or not, to go against these threats, because the danger goes beyond the current disputes that they have about Ukraine. Therefore, I think they should cooperate.

There is a fair number of experts saying that the recent steps made by NATO indicate that it is still pursuing a goal of moving eastwards, perhaps, taking Ukraine, and – all the way to Moscow, who knows…

This is another game of the good old agitprop – agitation and propaganda. NATO is not expanding war machine, it is not! Actually, the funny thing of this whole story about Ukraine and the allegations that Russia made is that so far NATO, until one or two months ago, has always said – Russia is not an enemy for us anymore, Russia is a strategic partner of NATO.

But now, due to the fact that Russia has “annexed” Crimea, and let’s not forget what happened in the past to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, now NATO has come to the conclusion that Russia is not a partner anymore. And even more specifically, and that is the thing that Russia does not want, the Article 5 – the collective defense, in this case, against the successor state of the Soviet Union being Russia – is now on the agenda again.

And therefore, what Russia does not want and what Russia has always said would be the case, but hasn’t happened so far, is now happening – NATO is reinforcing troops in Poland and the Baltic states and NATO’s putting collective defense against Russia is again on the agenda. It has not been on the agenda for the last 20 years, but now, due to its own actions, Russia is creating the NATO that they are afraid of and that they’ve always been against. So, the other way around, Russia is creating the threats that it was against. 

Alastair Crooke , political analyst, the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, and an advisor to Javier Solana, High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union (1997-2003):

– I think that has been an extremely disruptive and dangerous exercise of trying to pull it into an association with Europe. I think now it is probably too late to really bring it all together, except for, very possibly, in some sort of loose federal and autonomous structure. But even that is now looking less and less viable. So, I think ultimately we are looking at a separation and, probably, a fragmentation of the country, some parts of it finding a much closer arrangement with Russia, whereas the western part will probably float off into a closer relationship with the Europeans and with America.

How do you see the role of NATO in that situation?

I think, first of all, you have to understand and go back to the whole question. NATO in the sense of American policy has completely broken its undertakings that were given at that time when the Soviet Union was disintegrating. In exchange for agreeing to Germans’ unification and membership in NATO, NATO would not expand.

It has expanded and it is no secret that some of its ambitions have been to remove Russia from its warm water naval port in Sevastopol and to take that into – if you like – the Western custody with all its echoes of the Crimean war and the terrible consequences that it brought in terms of lost lives fighting for that port, for Crimea.

Particularly now, I think you have to look at what NATO is saying very much in the context of its present situation. Increasingly people in Europe are questioning what is the role of NATO, what is this self-defense structure is required for. There is no real sign of major conflict between nation states.

And it was very much in need of a new mission and objective, particularly after its failures, and they are failures, in Libya recently, because whatever you say about their ability to remove someone from office, the consequences have been dire and chaotic in Libya. And now it is having to leave Afghanistan, again with no political structures set in place for the aftermath of it.

So, it needs a new mission. And of course, there were many in NATO who said quite publically and overtly – this is a wonderful chance for us – what happens in Ukraine – to reinvent NATO in a new way and to give it a new structure, and to give it a new mission which will be reinforcing the whole – if you like – line of defense, from the Baltic republics down to, by John [McCain], against the resurgent Russia.

Russia is not resurging in a military sense, that is not at all what was happening. And I do say, again, that he is quite wrong. I think that throughout this crisis it was quite predictable what would happen if you gave a country that is divided and is complex, and with so many latent animosities that go back to the WW II, if you throw in a time bomb and say – you have to choose Europe or Moscow and that’s it, there can be no balance between the two – this would explode the whole political situation, which was always very delicate in Ukraine.

And unlike other places, of course, the eastern Ukraine, which has always been connected very closely, and not just geographically but in terms of culture, in terms of the south-Russian cultural origin and directly in family terms, it was very different. For Russia this is family. It is not Libya, it is not some country far away and this is a strategic threat right on the border within striking distance putting NATO’s hands within 18 miles of the St. Petersburg. Quite a different context.

 

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