Interaction between Russia and NATO: It will not get worse, because there is nowhere

Denis Dubrovin

Since the beginning of November, Russia has suspended the work of its permanent mission to NATO in Brussels and the activities of the alliance’s missions in Moscow. This decision was made after the North Atlantic Organization revoked the accreditation of eight employees of the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation. From the point of view of diplomacy, Russia and NATO went back 20 or even 30 years ago, when there was no systemic dialogue between them.

However, for the first time, the alliance expelled Russian diplomats to NA-TO without giving any reason back in 2009. What a-ctually happened, what will it lead to, who benefited fr-om it, and what are the possible further scenarios of i-nteraction? We’ll figure out.

Briefly about the main

For impatient readers, I’ll draw brief conclusions right away.

The closure of diplomatic missions will mark the end of the Russia-NATO Council (RNC). At the same time, the Russian Federation will practically not notice its disappearance, since the diplomatic exchange between our country and the North Atlantic Alliance has long strived to zero. The talks will continue, but not with the NATO headquarters, but with the real center of decision-making in the alliance – with the United States. The dialogue with the rest of the countries of the treaty will also be conducted on bilateral platforms, including on issues of military security and cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Moreover, contacts at the military level between Russia and NATO have never been tied to the NRC and will continue as needed. In other words, there will be no war. The West does not need it – it needs endless confrontation.

There will be no discernible deterioration in relations after the closure of the missions. Simply bec-ause there is nowhere further. NATO and the United States turned out to be neither ready nor able to build a truly equal partnership with Russia. Everything they want fits into the phrase “dialogue from a position of strength.”

End of an era

The Russia-NATO Council lasted 19 years. It was assumed that it would become an instrument for bringing the Atlantic and Eurasian poles of power closer together. However, no one has yet formally admitted his death. But the RNC is a council of ambassadors of Russia and NATO states. And since there are no ambassadors, there is no advice. Now it can only be assembled at a “remote lo-cation”, but there were no such precedents in history, even during a complete loc-kdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe.

Initially, the RNC meetings were held almost weekly, later they were reduced to ten meetings in four years, and at the end – a two-year pause. The last meeting of the council was held on July 5, 2019. Long before that, in response to any arguments, NATO countries had repeated in chorus a learned set of accusations against Russia: guilty of the civil war in Ukraine; interferes in the affairs and elections of NATO countries; uses prohibited types of weapons – from chemical weapons to the latest Russian cruise missiles; its hackers are capable of hacking anything, anywhere.

The reforms and modernization of the Russian army, which began in 2014, also sparked a flurry of accusations from the alliance of Russia’s aggressive actions. The same topic has become an endless source for speculation with the aim of increasing the military spending of the alliance states, despite the fact that the total military budgets of the NATO countries are 20 times higher than the military budget of the Russian Federation.

As the failure of the NATO operation in Afghanistan became apparent, the insinuations against the Russian Federation were joined by the replication of rumors that Russia was allegedly helping the Taliban forces fighting against the alliance (banned in Russia).

In such a context, it is not difficult to lose interest in exchanging accusatory monologues. So, over the past two years, the NATO Secretary General has repeatedly voiced a call to hold a meeting of the RNC. But when Russian diplomats asked about the topics of conversation, the same set sounded. And Russia does not need conversations for the sake of conversations.

Beginning of the End

The strategic partnership was based on the NATO-Russia Founding Act, signed in 1997. He declared that both sides cease to regard each other as adversaries, refuse to use force or threats to use it against each other, and begin joint efforts to disarm and develop partnership. It was on these principles and for the sake of their implementation that the Russia-NATO Council was created later, in 2002. The Founding Act has not been denounced today, it remains in force, but in practice it has become an empty shell.

From the very first days of the Council’s work, Russia found itself face to face with the monolithic position of all 19 NATO countries on virtually any controversial issue. The arguments that Russia made about the uselessness and danger of NATO expansion for peace and stability in Europe were simply ignored.

A symbolic moment of the change in tone in relations between Russia and NATO, as well as in relations with the West in general, was the speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin at a security conference in Munich in 2007. In it, the Russian leader very frankly suggested that the West work on conditions of equal partnership, not imitate, but really create mechanisms to guarantee mutual security. Solve problems on the world stage through dialogue.

True, apparently, the representatives of the North Atlantic elite considered in this speech only Russia’s attempt to reconsider the results of the Cold War and regain the status of a world power, having moved the United States and its allies. “We defeated you in the Cold War and now we will always and everywhere do whatever we go” – this phrase in those days was often heard in different interpretations in Brussels in private conversations from American representatives and those close to them, especially if the discussion passed a certain degree heat and alcohol.

The first apparent critical failure of the RNC occurred a little over a year after Vladimir Putin’s speech – in August 2008, when Georgia launched a war against South Ossetia. Then the Russian peacekeepers were killed, and the Russian Federation was forced to launch a military operation to force Georgia to peace. At that time, Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO was Dmitry Rogozin, who interrupted his vacation and returned to Brussels on August 8, where he demanded the immediate convening of the RNC. Russia intended to inform the alliance about the real situation in the war zone, against the background of an avalanche stream of disinformation in the Western media about Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Georgia. NATO dragged on until August 12, when the situation in the conflict zone had already been determined and Russian troops actually completed the expulsion of the Georgian forces and forcing them to ceasefire.

Even then, the US mission to NATO blocked the NRC meeting. Instead, the NATO Council was convened, where the Georgian ambassador was invited. After that, the alliance came out with harsh criticism of Russia for the alleged “disproportionate use of force.” The United States, the Czech Republic and the Baltic countries called for a review of relations between Russia and NATO. Not a single word of condemnation was spoken to Tbilisi; the alliance ignored the death of the Russian peacekeepers.

Now such actions of NATO do not cause much surprise, they say, it could not be otherwise. But in 2008, for many people, both in Russia and in the West, this situation became a real cold shower. It demonstrated what, in a real situation, all the statements of the United States and NATO countries about a strategic partnership with Russia are worth.

Dismantling cooperation

After the war in Georgia, the work of the NATO-Russia Council was paralyzed for nine months – it only resumed on April 29, 2009. The change in the US administration, first of all, contributed to the “reconciliation” – Barack Obama announced a reset in relations with Russia. True, the very next day, April 30, it was announced that two diplomats were expelled from the Russian mission to NATO, virtually without explanation. In my (and not only) opinion, it was a frank signal: “Do not think that relations after Georgia will continue as if nothing had happened.”

In 2010, a new serious strategic irritant in relations between Russia and NATO came to the fore – the US plans to deploy its own missile defense (ABM) system in Europe. In theory, such bases in Romania and Poland made it possible to keep the airspace of the entire European part of Russia under control. And when strike missiles were deployed there, their flight time to the Russian capital was reduced to several minutes.

All compromise proposals of Russia, including the creation of an integrated system in which Russian complexes would defend their territory and the eastern flank of NATO, and NATO – its territory and the western flank of Russia, were swept aside. Washington and Brussels also refused to sign a document that would consolidate NATO’s commitment not to use its missile defense system against the Russian Federation. The United States simply announced that the system will remain deployed in the direction of the Russian Federation, but at the same time it will not pose a threat to this country.

Until 2012, Russian diplomats tried to find a solution to this problem in the Russia-NATO Council, but all attempts hit the wall. By the way, the United States was not able to complete this system. Moreover, NATO lost all interest in it after Russia, apparently realizing the futility of its diplomatic efforts, relied on a military-technical response and put into service a new generation of cruise missiles.

Confrontation

A full-fledged confrontation between Russia and NATO began to grow rapidly since 2014 – after the reunification of Crimea with Russia. The alliance immediately stopped all programs of military cooperation with the Russian Federation, the work of the RNC actually stopped for two years.

In 2015, NATO again demanded to reduce the size of Russia’s mission to the alliance – to 30 people. The following year, Russian diplomats were restricted on the list of people who can enter NATO headquarters. True, at the same time, in 2016, the first meeting of the Russia-NATO Council at the level of ambassadors took place after the freeze of relations. However, there was only a triad of themes that later fi-gured in all subsequent me-etings of the RNC: Ukraine and the Minsk agreements, military activity in Europe, the fight against terrorism and Afghanistan.

The latest acts in the destruction of the dialogue between Russia and NATO were the reduction in the number of the permanent mission of Russia to the North Atlantic Alliance from 30 to 20 people in 2018 (in connection with unproven accusations in the Skripal case) and the US plans to withdraw from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty). ) (Washington explained this by alleged violations of the treaty by the Russian Federation).

The last meeting of the RNC took place on July 5, 2019. At it, the parties stated that the INF Treaty could no longer be saved and that the disagreements over Ukraine at the moment are insurmountable. The only positive moment was the exchange of military briefings on the sides’ exercises in Europe. At this point, the dialogue within the RNC ended, so that, apparently, it would no longer be resumed.

Thus, NATO’s decision to reduce the size of Russia’s permanent mission to the alliance from 20 to 10 people, explaining this by the presence of some abstract data on Russian intelligence activities, was simply the final act in this long play.

Who benefits

In my opinion, Russia’s response to the complete closure of missions became logical, and, most likely, the authors of this performance were counting on it. The Russian Foreign Ministry was supposed to react to the expulsion of diplomats, but there is practically no one to expel from Moscow, which means that the only step was the final closure of the NATO mission. At the same time, leaving its own practically bloodless permanent mission in Brussels would mean leaving the alliance with the opportunity to deliver another diplomatic blow, to which there will be no response.

At the same time, those who have long been engaged in dismantling the dialogue between Russia and NATO can now again accuse Moscow of unwillingness to conduct a dialogue. How can one explain that against the background of a clear intensification of bilateral contacts between Russia and the United States, including the recent consultations and the visit to Moscow of Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, the same United States is pushing for a structural dialogue between Russia and NATO? I see it as elementary: the United States is strengthening discipline among its allies, making desperate efforts to close Europe only on itself. Following the same logic, after the EU-US summit in Brussels in June 2021, Washington’s Eastern European allies effectively blocked the leaders of Germany and France from meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin – only Joe Biden held such a meeting in June.

NATO is a military organization, rigidly bound by North Atlantic discipline and tailored to the needs of the United States (it was created, however, by the British Empire to maintain its positions in the post-war world and strengthen its influence in the destroyed Europe, but London was not up to the task). Today, one of the central tasks of NATO is to impose Western weapons standards on the alliance countries and organize trillions of orders for their supplies from the American military-industrial complex. This requires a dangerous external enemy and sufficient military appropriations from the Allies to pay for these contracts.

Confrontation can be without military action, but it is fierce, in which European countries are not allowed to question who their enemy is. Of course, this applies not only to armaments, but also to practically all economic aspects. The current gas crisis in Europe and the US-inspired fuss over Nord Stream 2 are examples from the same area.

NATO anachronism

But it cannot be said that NATO is successful in its even undercover aspirations. The alliance’s systemic problem is that this huge bureaucratic machine and a mechanism that is extremely beneficial for the US military-industrial lobby have completely disappeared from time to time. Attempts to reorient it to the fight against international terrorism or to the function of the world policeman have failed completely. Throughout its history, the Alliance has conducted three key military operations – in Serbia in 1999, in Libya in 2011 and in Afghanistan in 2001–2021. All of them made it possible at a certain stage to achieve military successes, but strategically they became a failure.

By the way, it should be added that it was in 2014 that the United States began to curtail the main part of the combat mission in Afghanistan and the first large-scale withdrawal of NATO troops from this country. When these plans were announced in 2013, many Atlantic experts sounded the alarm that the termination of the mission in Afghanistan could lead to the loss of NATO’s purpose and meaning, since this operation has served as the pivot around which all NATO activities have been built for more than 10 years.

A year later, when, as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, the North Atlantic Alliance explicitly announced that it was returning to military containment of Russia, the same experts, beaming, said on many Brussels platforms that NATO was now facing a new golden age. Defense spending has grown since 2015 and continued to rise even during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is, NATO is working in its original function, but for this it needs a confrontation with Russia, and in the course of its functioning, the alliance itself generates this confrontation.

What to do Russia

I repeat, Russia does not lose practically anything from the situation with the closure of missions. The diplomatic dialogue with NATO had actually already been suspended, the missions of the alliance in Moscow were no longer engaged in diplomacy, but in promoting Atlantic ideas, inviting representatives of the Russian media to NATO headquarters for seminars and meetings, and interacting with various non-governmental organizations.

From the point of view of the presence of military channels of communication with NATO, which are necessary to prevent incidents, they have always existed outside the structure of the NRC and will not go anywhere now.

In particular, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, has regular contacts (including personal meetings) with the Supreme Commander of the Allied Armed Forces of NATO in Europe Tod Walters on the transparency of military activity and the prevention of military incidents. The last such meeting took place on February 6, 2020 in Baku.

They can only realize the anachronism of the North Atlantic Alliance and the futility of the confrontation with Russia being sold to it. As recent events, including the Afghan crisis and the soaring energy prices in Europe, show, European countries do not have much time for this realization. And Russia has it.

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