Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Opinion

Nato in Moscow, Moscow in Nato?

  • Moscow's relations with Brussels may improve if the Nato thaw develops (Photo: wikipedia)

Apart from the now customary display of Russian military might, the 9 May ceremony in Moscow witnessed the strange spectacle of Nato troops marching on the Red Square.

The presence of the erstwhile enemy has stirred controversy in the country, which is no stranger to tense relations with the military alliance.

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Although Brussels and Moscow have recently embarked on the careful process of repairing ties in the wake of the recent war in Georgia, the fact that Moscow invited Nato troops to parade alongside the Russian soldiers raises a host of intriguing questions as to the future direction of the Nato-Russia relationship.

Are Brussels and Moscow in for a more durable rapprochement? Could this thaw eventually result in Nato membership for Russia?

At the moment, Nato and Russian officials continue to sound upbeat about the prospects for cooperation. In December 2009, the first session of the Nato-Russia Council was held after its suspension in response to the war in Georgia.

For the time being, Afghanistan remains the most visible manifestation of the current thaw. Despite all its grudges against the Alliance, Russia can ill-afford the failure of Nato since it would then have to face the spread of violent extremism into Central Asia on it own.

In the meantime, a myriad of programmes have been progressing. Nato and Russia agreed on a road map of military activities for this year. Dmitri Trenin, a prominent Russian foreign policy expert, suggested that Nato and Russia should explore developing joint missile defence. Mr Trenin's idea was recently echoed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. There is ample room for both sides to share expertise and technology in tackling common threats.

Does this seemingly more cooperative relationship herald a more far-reaching reconciliation between the former rivals? If so, is Russia's admission into Nato feasible in the long-run? However hypothetical it is, the subject has been occasionally broached by foreign policy-makers as well as experts on both sides.

As early as December 1991, Russian President Boris Yeltsin wrote to Nato saying that his country would join the Alliance some time in the future. Mr Yeltsin's successor Vladimir Putin, during his first presidential term, also hinted at Russia's possible membership of the Alliance.

In early February this year, the Institute of Contemporary Development, an influential liberal think-tank whose board of trustees includes President Dmitry Medvedev, published a report on the future of Russia. The document foresees the country's gradual accession into Nato.

But for Russia to join Nato a number of practical hurdles remain. Nato membership entails acceptance of certain limits on a country's sovereignty as well as its freedom of action, which would make Russia's full integration into the Alliance immensely problematic at best. One might argue that Russia's membership in Nato would signal an end to the Alliance as we know it. By exercising its veto right Moscow could in theory easily paralyse the Alliance.

Yet the naysayers tend to ignore the fact that despite its anti-Nato rhetoric, Moscow might seek to gain a say in Nato affairs as a means to stay engaged in the European security dialogue - a theme also present in Mr Medvedev's security pact for Europe.

Will the Alliance ever accept Russia as was suggested in an open letter published in German news magazine, Der Spiegel, in March by a group of German politicians, including former defence minister Volker Ruehe? Probably not.

The issue of Nato membership for Russia will remain confined to the realm of speculation, at least in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, subtle hints by the Kremlin, such as the publication of the February report and the troops parading on Red Square, should be interpreted as a genuine expression of interest in deepening ties with the Alliance.

If such signals are developed properly, there is a chance for a qualitative improvement in the way Moscow and Brussels interact with each other. This would constitute a crucial building block for the contemporary European security architecture.

Jakub Kulhanek is with the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies at Georgetown University. Michal Thim is researcher with the Association for International Affairs (AMO), a Prague-based foreign policy think tank.

Invited by the Kremlin, British, French and other Nato troops for the first time in history marched along Russian ones in Red Square, commemorating 65 years since the victory over Nazi Germany.

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