NATO to reconsider ties with Russia
The emergency meeting called by the US comes amid warnings from Washington that the Kremlin risks compromising its role in Western institutions such as NATO
Brussels -- NATO foreign ministers are to hold emergency talks in Brussels on Tuesday to reconsider the alliance's ties with Russia after the conflict in Georgia.
The meeting, which is to take place in the middle of Europe's traditional summer break, was called by the United States.
It will come amid warnings from Washington that the Kremlin risks compromising its role in Western institutions such as NATO, the World Trade Organization and the Group of Eight (G-8) because of its military activity in Georgia and in the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"In recent years, Russia has sought to integrate into the diplomatic, political, economic and security structures of the 21st century," US President George W. Bush said Wednesday. "Now Russia is putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions."
On Thursday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates further warned that Russia's intervention in neighboring Georgia -- a future NATO member -- would lead to "consequences."
One obvious repercussion may well involve the NATO-Russia Council (NRC).
Established at a summit in Rome in 2002, the NRC has often been defended by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as "a valuable forum for dialogue to resolve complex political issues."
The NRC has also led NATO and Russia to cooperate on a practical level, such as with joint military exercises.
But that cooperation looks increasingly at risk.
Joint US, Canadian and Russian military exercises scheduled for Aug. 20 have already been cancelled -- and so have joint naval exercises between Russia, the US, Britain and France which were originally due to take place on Friday.
The missile shield
Meanwhile, one of the most immediate results of Russia's intervention has been to convince reluctant Poland of the merits of hosting US missile interceptors on its territory.
The US missile shield, which also involves the construction of a tracking radar in the Czech Republic, is strongly opposed in Moscow.
On Friday, Russian Army generals menacingly told Poland that the hosting of US missiles would turn it into a potential military target.
The last NRC meeting was held in June. On that occasion, the NATO chief praised Russia for its cooperation with the alliance in spite of serious disagreements.
This week, a request by Russia for an extraordinary meeting to discuss the Georgia conflict was turned down, with the alliance's chief saying more time was needed to prepare it.
Freezing the NRC
And now, the US ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, says Tuesday's talks in Brussels will have NATO allies "consider" freezing, if not abandoning the NRC altogether.
"We will talk amongst ourselves about NATO's relationship with Russia," Volker said in an interview with German television.
Noting that several member states which were once under Soviet control had expressed strong anti-Russian sentiments, Gates said that since NATO is built on consensus, "all opinions must be taken into account."
However, few analysts expect Tuesday's meeting to come up with any drastic decisions.
They argue that while Eastern European countries may push for a strong response to Russia's renewed military assertiveness, Western powers such as France and Germany will continue to favor a more conciliatory approach, if only to protect their commercial interests.
Speaking at an emergency EU meeting on Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier argued that the best strategy for the West would be to keep its channels of communication with Moscow open, rather than indulge in "one-sided condemnations."
-- Nicholas Rigillo