Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is calling upon the United States and NATO not to let relations with Russia slip into a “cold peace” following the March 29 addition of seven new members into the Western military alliance. In an April 6 speech in Washington, Ivanov struck the shrillest note among Russian leaders in a persistent yet resigned chorus opposing NATO’s growth.
Ivanov depicted Moscow’s view of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joining NATO as “calm, but negative.” Ivanov, who attended a NATO-Russian meeting on combating terrorism the day before, said that a window of opportunity remained for a meaningful NATO-Russian partnership but warned that the West should not allow it to become a “small vent shaft” or close altogether by forsaking Russian interests.
NATO’s recent expansion marked the second time that states from the old Soviet military bloc joined their previous Cold War rivals and the first to include former Soviet republics, in the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. NATO welcomed Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into its ranks in 1999.
At the heart of NATO membership is a guarantee that an attack against one member will be considered an attack against all. In recent years, NATO has augmented its traditional role of defending its members’ territories with military action and deployments outside its members’ borders, such as in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
Russia objects to such activism. It also charges that the newest round of expansion will enable the alliance to deploy an unlimited amount of weaponry next to Russia’s borders in the three Baltic states, which are not bound by the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. The CFE Treaty balanced the number of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, heavy artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters that NATO and the now-defunct Warsaw Pact could deploy in Europe.
Four NATO fighter jets started patrolling the three Baltic states’ airspace following their formal accession to the alliance. NATO, which now numbers 26 members, described the overflights as “routine policing.”
Although NATO contends that its expansion is not aimed at Russia, Ivanov appeared unconvinced. He declared that the Kremlin has “no illusions about the reasons why the Baltic states were admitted into NATO and why NATO airplanes…are being deployed there.” Ivanov explained, “It has nothing to do with a fight against terrorism and proliferation.”
Russia is urging that the Baltic states accede as soon as possible to a 1999 adapted version of the CFE Treaty. However, the three states cannot do so yet because the updated treaty, which supplants the original treaty’s arms limits on the two former Cold War military blocs with national limits for each state-party, has not entered into force. The original CFE Treaty, which has no provision for nonmembers to join it, is still in force and will remain so until all 30 existing CFE Treaty states-parties formally approve the adapted version.
NATO members are refusing to ratify the adapted CFE Treaty until Russia fulfills military withdrawal commitments related to Georgia and Moldova. In conjunction with the 1999 overhaul of the CFE Treaty, Moscow pledged that it would withdraw all of its military forces from Moldova by the end of 2002 and conclude negotiations with Georgia to close Russian bases on its territory by the end of 2000. Russia has not fulfilled either pledge. (See ACT, December 2003.)
While pressing Moscow to complete these actions, NATO is seeking to reassure Russia that its fear about unrestrained armaments in the Baltic states is unwarranted. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have all promised to apply for CFE membership once the adapted agreement enters into force.
Moreover, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Russian President Vladimir Putin April 8 that “neither old nor new NATO members have any intention to station significant numbers of troops on their territories.”
Standing alongside Scheffer, Putin said Russia intends to “do all we can to ensure that relations between Russia and NATO develop positively.” Still, he labeled NATO expansion as a “problem” that did not address current security threats, such as terrorism.
Both Ivanov and Putin cautioned that any buildup of NATO military infrastructure near Russia’s borders would influence future Russian defense and security policies.
Secretary of State Colin Powell April 1 dismissed Moscow’s concerns that the West wants to hem Russia in. While noting the Pentagon’s interest in shifting U.S. bases around in Europe to respond better to troubled regions or terrorism, Powell said overall U.S. troop strength in Europe would decrease.
Nevertheless, Powell indicated NATO and the United States would remain vigilant against any Russian strong-arm tactics on its periphery. “Russia will try to exercise its influence and I think it’s something that we will have to watch and we’ll have to deal with,” Powell stated.