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4th Mar 2024

Paris, US advisors back Russian veto over NATO enlargement

French defence minister Herve Morin on Tuesday (17 March) said any future NATO enlargement must take Russia into account, while a US high-level commission advised President Barack Obama to stop encouraging Georgia and Ukraine to join.

Any expansion of NATO to include countries such as Georgia and Ukraine cannot happen without consultation with Russia, Mr Morin said in an interview for Associated Press, ahead of a parliamentary vote on France's return to the alliance's military structures.

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"We believe that NATO enlargement must be put in the perspective of the need not to weaken NATO," he said, adding that any move must take into account "the relationship with Russia."

"These are things that cannot be decided without speaking to our Russian neighbour," Mr Morin stressed.

NATO has so far maintained that Russia does not have a veto over the alliance's enlargement policy, despite the visible influence it has on some of its members, such as Germany and France, who last year blocked further steps in Georgia and Ukraine's accession process. At US insistance, they were however promised they could become NATO members at some undefined point in the future.

Moscow has fiercely opposed NATO enlargement to its former Soviet republics, claiming it would be threatened by the militarisation of its bordering countries, despite the arsenal it possesses.

Also on Tuesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced a large scale re-armament of conventional and nuclear forces from 2011 onwards as a response to NATO enlargement.

"The attempts to enlarge NATO's military infrastructure are not ceasing," said Mr Medvedev. "All this calls for qualitatively modernising our armed forces and reshaping their image. This involves the enhancement of combat preparedness of our troops, primarily the strategic nuclear forces," he added.

On the same day, a high-level bipartisan commission advised President Obama "to develop options other than NATO membership" for these two countries, in order to mend ties with Moscow.

The commission report said that the new administration should "accept that neither Ukraine nor Georgia is ready for NATO membership," but that it should also work with NATO allies to find other ways "to demonstrate a commitment to their sovereignty." The United States, it said, does not now have "a compelling security interest" in NATO membership for either country.

The panel was headed by Gary Hart, a former Democratic senator and Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator.

The report also suggested a "new look" at the missile defense system that the United States wants to install in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia vigorously opposes the idea, saying that the interceptors would be used against it, not against Iranian missiles.

"Building a joint system that could include Russian facilities and equipment is most desirable," the report said.

The commission examined Russia's use of "Europe's energy dependence for political leverage." It suggested working both with the Europeans, to support the development of non-Russian gas sources, and jointly with the Europeans and Russia, to establish an agreed "system of rights and responsibilities" aimed at preventing energy suspensions.

The document was presented to Mr Obama's national security adviser, Jim Jones, and US vice-president Joseph Biden. Both Mr Hagel and Mr Hart were received last week by Mr Medvedev.

Dangerous bargain with Russia

Under the Bush administration, NATO-Russian relations were frozen after Moscow's invasion of Georgia in August, but they were resumed two weeks ago with the new US secretary of state Hillary Clinton emphasising the need for a "fresh start" with Russia. Washington sees Moscow's help as essential in countering Iran's nuclear aspirations and for the war in Afghanistan to succeed.

Eastern European countries, especially former Soviet republics such as the Baltic states, have long regarded NATO accession as a security guarantee against future Russian invasions, as well as a catalyst for EU membership. Militarily neutral countries such as Belarus and Moldova still have no EU membership perspectives, despite recent efforts by Brussels to step up its involvement in the region.

NATO enlargement expert Ron Asmus, head of the Brussels branch of the German Marshall Fund, a US think-tank, recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that "before engaging Russia, the US has to convince allies that they're safe."

"When we set out to create a new European security system in the early 1990s, a core goal was to provide equal security - a system where big countries could not beat up on little ones," Mr Asmus wrote.

"We enshrined - and Russia accepted - the core principle that any country was free to choose its own path and alliance. Russia's invasion of Georgia broke those rules and principles. This war took place largely because of Moscow's desire to thwart Tbilisi's desire to be independent and to go west," he added, while conceding that Georgia also made mistakes.

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