What does NATO offer Russia, and what does Russia get in reality? Would Russia be willing to help NATO stay afloat by participating in its projects? What is the price of improving relations with its Western partners?
Dmitry Medvedev has expressed his preliminary agreement to visit the NATO summit in November. He announced this to Merkel and Sarkozy at the meeting in Deauville. However the president of Russia expressed a wish to clear up the issue of how exactly NATO is planning to change its concept of missile defense in Europe.
Military expert Aleksandr Khramchikhin thinks that the threat that Iran and North Korea allegedly pose, which is often discussed by supporters of Russia-NATO relations becoming closer, is a myth. He estimates the combat and political state of the alliance as low and does not see Russia in this bloc.
- military and political expert, Deputy Director of Military and Political Analytical Institute
- graduated from Moscow State University
- in 1990’s worked for Boris Yeltsin’s election campaign, as well as for election campaign of parties Our Home – Russia and Union of Right Forces
RT: Why did NATO voice its idea to have a joint missile shield with Russia only now?
Aleksandr Khramchikhin: Obviously, it did so because of the upcoming NATO summit. I don’t see any other reasons.
RT: But NATO summits happen regularly. Yet there were no such suggestions before. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO, says that the idea of involving Russia in NATO projects has never been popular; on the contrary, there was a tendency to exclude Russia. Why does NATO involve Russia in its projects now?
Military expert Aleksandr Khramchikhin
AK: NATO is clearly looking for a raison d’etre. The organization has been looking for it since 1991, when the enemy it was created to fight against ceased to exist. Until recently, eastward expansion was deemed as the only purpose for NATO’s existence. It was sort of a goal in itself. But now the project is obviously no longer relevant. It brings more problems than benefits. So the next and the only existing option is to involve Russia. Unless this project gets underway in the nearest future, they will have to dissolve NATO.
RT: Why should Russia help NATO stay afloat by participating in its projects?
AK: Actually, I do not quite understand myself why Russia should participate in this. Of course, it would be useful for Russia to develop closer ties with NATO, if it provided real protection from China, because China is surely the main threat to us. But it’s obvious that at the moment NATO is in such a condition that it cannot provide any kind of protection from anything. It’s just unable to do it. That’s why it’s absolutely unclear why we should participate in projects which have no effect.
RT: Those who are trying to pull Russia into a joint missile defense project claim there will be a shield to protect both Russia and Europe from Iran and North Korea. But do these countries pose any threat to Russia and Europe?
What about the threats which the proponents of closer ties with NATO are talking, or keeping silent, about?
- North Korea does not pose a threat to either Russia or Europe due to its weakness and its location
- Iran does not have adequate missiles, nor any reason to attack Russia or Europe
- one of the reasons why NATO wants Russia to join its project is to pit Russia against Iran
- NATO will not be able to protect Russia from China, the only real threat to Russia today
AK: As for North Korea, the idea is so absurd that there is nothing to comment on. I don’t even know who would buy it. How can NATO protect Russia from North Korea? North Korea is in the Far East, and NATO is in Europe.I don’t see how Iran can be a threat either. Firstly, Iran can’t mass-produce even conventional intermediate-range missiles, let alone missiles with nuclear warheads. And secondly, even if Iran gets such missiles, I have no clue as to why Iran should suddenly attack Russia or Europe.
The Iranian threat is nothing but an artificial geopolitical invention. And the threat coming from North Korea is sheer nonsense.
RT: Do you think that perhaps NATO is talking about cooperation and joint projects in order to ruin Russian-Iranian relations and get Russia involved in a war with Iran?
AK: That is true to some extent. But that’s not the main thing. The main thing is that Russia is being involved in a NATO project on NATO’s terms. In other words, we start doing something we are not interested in, while NATO gets a new raison d’etre. NATO gets more funds – a lot more, and NATO bureaucrats roll in money again.
RT: What does Russia expect to receive from the deal? Russia is still only considering the offer and expects certain compromises. What are they?
AK: As far as I understand, we won’t get anything in return. All we get is a more confident relationship with the West, which is not bad, but that’s not enough.
RT: But there is some bargaining going on. For example, Russia hopes the United States will reconsider its plan to deploy a missile defense system in Europe.
AK: I don’t know what is there to change. So far, there is no missile shield in Europe. So, there is nothing to change. There is a project which has already been completely changed. Bush had one project, and now Obama has an altogether different project. However, in reality nothing has been done, and now the project is under discussion again. So, if Russia joins it, that will be a different project again.
RT: What is the purpose of the military reform which is currently conducted in Russia? Closer cooperation with NATO?
AK: No, the purpose of the military reform, if there is one, has nothing to do with cooperation. In fact, we never expected to have military cooperation with anybody. We don’t cooperate with anybody. We don’t have any real allies. We should clearly realize that.
Military reforms are always launched in connection with some events outside the country, because armed forces exist to counter external threats. The purpose of the current reform is not cooperation, especially with NATO, because it started after the war with Georgia when Russia-NATO relations were at their worst.
RT: What about the upcoming reform of NATO? Can Russia benefit from it?
AK: It’s not clear yet what kind of reform it will be, because NATO hasn’t yet adopted its new concept.
RT: Why do some Russian politicians and experts advocate closer ties with NATO? What is their rationale?
Why does NATO seek closer ties with Russia?
- maximum eastward expansion brought problems instead of solving them
- NATO exhausted its raison d’etre after the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact
- the involvement of Russia means more funds for NATO bureaucracy
AK: I repeat, hypothetically this cooperation could be a great advantage, if NATO could protect us from China. The problem with the people who make such statements is that they have no idea what NATO actually is. They continue to think of NATO as of a very well-organized political and military alliance the way it was in the Cold War times. And thus the majority of our people, including Kremlin officials, think NATO to be a terrible threat, while a small number of people, such people as Igor Yurgens, for example, think that, on the contrary, NATO is our protection and ally.
In reality, NATO is anything but a powerful and well-organized politico-military force. It is a purely bureaucratic structure, which has lost its raison d’etre and, what’s more important, its military potential. That’s why it doesn’t pose any threat, but neither can it be a good ally.
RT: How did Russia benefit from participating in such summits?
AK: There was no benefit, because in 99 percent of the cases summits of this kind are nothing but a talking shop.
RT: Russia’s relationship with Belarusian leader Lukashenko has taken a turn for the worse. What are the chances he might start drifting from Russia towards NATO?
AK: That’s something Lukashenko has long been blackmailing us with. He’s been very active in flirting with the West. But the West can’t accept him for ideological reasons.
RT: Do you think Ukraine has fully abandoned the idea to join NATO?
AK: NATO’s eastward expansion creates more problems than it solves. Having accepted 12 new countries between 1999 and 2009, NATO became much weaker in terms of its military capacity and has become much more difficult to manage. So if they go on and accept countries like Ukraine, which doesn’t have an effective army and where most of the people are against joining NATO, this is going to create even more problems, and perhaps these problems will be even more serious than those caused by the 12 recently-joined members put together. So why would NATO want Ukraine?
RT: Is it even possible for Russia to have agreements with NATO? For example, agreements secured by Gorbachev when Soviet troops left East Germany were later dismissed. Do we expect to have any agreements with the West today?
AK: In 1990, the Warsaw Pact was still in force and no one seriously considered the possibility of these states joining NATO.
Today we are not ready for an actual dialogue with NATO. We have nothing to propose. That’s why they come up with proposals like this dialogue about the missile defense system, which doesn’t exist and which nobody really needs.
Nadezhda Kevorkova, RT
U.S. President Barack Obama (second from left) and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (right) meet at the latter’s country residence outside Moscow in July 2009.
November 30 , 2010
By Brian Whitmore
The United States considers Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to be Russia’s true ruler despite the close relationship and public camaraderie that has developed between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev.
In leaked U.S. diplomatic cables released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, officials describe Medvedev as "pale and hesitant," a sharp contrast to their portrayal of Putin as an "alpha dog." The cables also note that Medvedev — the country’s nominal ruler — appears to play "Robin to Putin’s Batman."
In another cable describing a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and French Defense Minister Herve Morin in February, Gates is quoted as saying that "Russian democracy has disappeared and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services."
Excerpts from the cables were published by the newspapers "The New York Times" in the United States, "The Guardian" in Great Britain, "Der Spiegel" in Germany, France’s "Le Monde," and Spain’s "El Pais."
Analysts say the classified documents illustrate that despite the noticeably warmer relationship that has evolved between Washington and Moscow since Obama announced his reset policy, the U.S. foreign-policy establishment harbors few illusions about the nature of Russian domestic politics and Kremlin’s international intentions.
"It shows that there is this cold, steely-eyed realism about Russia," says Nikolas Gvosdev, a professor at the U.S. Navy War College and author of the former "The Washington Realist" blog who writes for "World Politics Review."
"They are not taken in by the rhetoric about managed democracy and managed pluralism. In private they recognize it for what it is, an oligarchy run by the security services and this informs their policy towards Russia."
This was clear from the cable describing Gates’ meeting with Morin, in which the defense secretary tried to convince the French not to sell Mistral-class warships to Russia, a prospect that alarmed neighboring Georgia and others.
Gates told Morin that such a move would send "a mixed signal to both Russia and our Central and Eastern European allies." According to the correspondence, Gates also said Medvedev "has a more pragmatic vision for Russia than Putin, but there has been little real change."
A More Cunning Game
In another cable, an unidentified U.S. diplomat described Putin’s problems struggling with an unmanageable bureaucracy and ruling a "virtual mafia state."
Gvosdev says the disclosures show that the administration does not "assume greater virtue" on the part of the Russians, even as it tries to work with Moscow.
"What they have always grappled with is: given the realities, what do we do about it?" Gvosdev says.
"They never really fell into this approach with Russia that there are these problems and we ought to fix them. Their approach is: we’ve been dealt the hand we’ve been dealt and these are the people we are dealing with. But let’s try to extract whatever value we can from the relationship."
Since Obama initiated his "reset" policy with Russia shortly after taking office last year, Eastern European officials have repeatedly expressed fears that their interests would be sacrificed on the altar of better relations between Moscow and Washington. Domestic critics have also slammed the policy as a naive capitulation to Moscow.
The leaked cables appear to show, however, that the administration harbors few illusions about Russia.
Among the elite in Moscow, the gap between Obama’s friendly public posture toward Russia and the ice-cold assessment that emerged private communications among diplomats came as no surprise.
"In Russia the public and the political elite are much more cynical and realistic than in Western countries. So the fact that diplomats say one thing [in public] and wrote something else [in cables] is in no way unexpected," says political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the Moscow-based policy journal "Russia in Global Affairs."
Lukyanov adds that it stands to reason that the Obama administration would ruthlessly pursue American interests even as it sought improved relations and greater cooperation with Moscow.
"We always thought that the Americans were playing a much more cunning game," he says. "In Russia nobody thinks Obama lacks an understanding of our country. He just thinks long-term and has his own priorities."
Batman, Robin, And Alpha Dog
The candid revelations in the cables come at a particularly crucial juncture in Russia’s relations with the West, and with the United States in particular. At NATO’s recent summit in Lisbon, Russia and the trans-Atlantic alliance agreed to cooperate in a number of areas, including a new missile-defense system championed by Obama.
Russia has also agreed to allow NATO to transport nonlethal military equipment across its territory to Afghanistan. Moscow has also joined Washington in imposing sanctions against Iran in an effort to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Analysts say it is doubtful that the warming trend between Moscow and the West will be harmed by the WikiLeaks disclosures.
"Everybody understands that people use language freely in closed diplomatic cables. It is unpleasant. But since the United States honestly warned that this was coming, there is no reason to get stressed out over this," Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin tells RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
"Are we going to claim that our president is actually Batman himself and not just Batman’s assistant? Or that Putin isn’t really an alpha dog but rather a beta dog? This is just not that interesting."
One thing that could damage the reset, however, would be Obama’s inability to get a reluctant Senate to ratify the new START nuclear-arms control treaty that he signed with Medvedev in Prague in April.
"I don’t think this [the WikiLeaks documents] will harm the reset by itself. But the reset will have its own problems if the new START treaty isn’t ratified," Lukyanov says. "This would raise a lot of questions about what happens next [in U.S.-Russian relations]."