Suspicious Russia still has big questions for NATO

20th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

So NATO is no longer officially a threat to Russia. But does that mean that the Cold War-era alliance now actually views Moscow as a friend?

That was the question being sceptically posed here after the first Russia-NATO summit in two years -- a Lisbon gathering aimed at burying the grievances of a 2008 war in Georgia and inviting Russia into a new European missile shield system.

The two former adversaries also struck a deal to boost the flow of Western military supply shipments to Afghanistan and vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in global affairs.

But it was Article 33 of the 28-nation Alliance's new Strategic Concept that was the talk of the town here on Saturday.

"NATO poses no threat to Russia," said the document. "On the contrary: we want to see a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia."

The Alliance also stressed that it remained "convinced that the security of NATO and Russia is intertwined and that a strong and constructive partnership ... can best serve our security."

Moscow's pointman on NATO called these fine sentiments that did little to change the real -- and much less cordial -- state of affairs.

"NATO says that it is no longer a threat to Russia," Dmitry Rogozin told Russian state television.

"This phrase is followed by a period -- but this is a virtual period that actually reads like a comma. For it in fact says nothing about whether NATO still perceives Russia itself as a threat."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen appeared to be answering those very concerns by declaring in Lisbon that the Alliance and Russia now "pose no threat to each other."

But the conventional wisdom in Moscow is that NATO policy is being increasingly driven by a strident new bloc of former Warsaw Pact and Soviet countries that still regards Russia as a bitter enemy.

Papers and pundits said older and more secure Alliance members such as Germany wanted a more far-reaching statement on Russia -- but that this was made impossible by the new NATO states.

"One cannot expect a more positive statement on Russia from the Alliance under the current circumstances," an unidentified German source in NATO was quoted by various Moscow media as saying.

The Russian capital seemed so steeped in suspicions on Saturday that some papers actually went out of their way to assure their readers that the Kremlin was not being fooled by the Brussels-based bloc.

"This turn of events was entirely in line with our expectations and Moscow does not intend to allow things to end there," the popular Komsomolskaya Pravda daily wrote.

"The Kremlin expects to build real partnership -- in other words equitable -- relations with the Alliance," the country's best-selling newspaper added.

The much-discussed European missile shield that Russia was officially invited to join this weekend was treated with even greater caution.

The Kremlin's top foreign policy adviser pointed out at that Russia had always opposed the US-backed initiative and that any joint project would only be implemented once Moscow had a completely equal say in how the system ran.

"It will take time to calibrate all these ideas -- and probably a lot of time," Sergei Prikhodko said going into the summit.

"We would like to see Russia's opinion being taken into account.... But this has to happen with Russia being treated as an equal partner."

Czech President Vaclav Klaus for his part dismissed the joint shield idea as a non-starter that had much more bark than bite.

"The intention is for NATO to have its own systems and for the Russia Federation to have another one," said Klaus.

"There will be no interference between the two," he was quoted by Czech news agencies as saying.

© 2010 AFP

0 Comments To This Article