07 October, 2010

Nick Assatiani
(GJ Moscow Correspondent)

‘The prospect of Russia joining NATO still sounds like a joke, an oxymoron. Like a sheep joining a pack of wolves. (In the West it’s treated like a wolf joining a herd of sheep)’, - said a report issued more than a decade ago by a Washington-based Committee on the issues of Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO. Has anything changed since then?


Opinion polls in Russia have consistently shown anti-western attitudes in the

society, so the hypothetical accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been considered a figment of imagination in the expert community. Even when historical breakthroughs occurred in Russia-NATO relations, they were more often viewed as inevitable zero-sum deals than a path to building of European security.
The attempts to challenge US and NATO role in the world politics, inspired by Vladimir Putin during his 2000-2008 presidency, included adoption of a National Security Concept and a Military Doctrine, with Western powers regarded as potential adversaries. The ideology of Russian foreign policy was clearly stated in his famous Munich speech in February 2007.
The clash over Ballistic Missile Defense in Eastern Europe, suspension of CFE Treaty by Russia, and eventually the war with Georgia led to termination of Russia-NATO dialogue within the existing Euro-Atlantic structures.

In the wake of such a downturn, the 2009-2010 resetting, announced and promoted by the new administrations in Washington and Moscow, was necessary for both sides. President Obama has paved the way for building relations with his Russian counterpart in the practical issues of bilateral interests, such as the New START Treaty and Afghanistan campaign.
But would anyone expect that restarting of dialogue between Russia and NATO Would go as far as discussing Russia’s possible accession?

Earlier in September, the Alliance issued a formal invitation to attend the Summit Meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government taking place in Lisbon on November 19-20. Officially, the decision to attend has not been announced by the President’s office yet, though the preparations are visible.
INSOR (Institute for Contemporary Development), a Medvedev-backed think-tank, has produced a foreign policy report which states that Euro-Atlantic integration is vital for Russia in its ‘modernization’ attempts.
The report directly offers immediate start of accession talks as one of the integration options.
The statement has already provoked a series of publications ranging from condemnation to cautious support. Most pro-Western experts agree that the overturn in foreign policy approaches is something Russia cannot afford to avoid. Otherwise, the country can be left behind in the process of liberalization and modernization, a goal which is proclaimed by President Medvedev during his every public appearance. The continued isolation and opposition to the global community may serve the nationalist interests of the people feeling embittered towards the West, but it cannot serve any true national interest.

The upcoming NATO summit in November will reveal whether Medvedev is  independent and self-sufficient in his desire to step up the integration, or he is limited in foreign policy too. The President’s speech at the summit is being drafted by INSOR, and I hope it won’t undergo the final approval by Prime Minister Putin.
Nothing is irreversible in history. After having fought relentless wars, cold and hot, while being both formally members of NATO PFP program, will Russia and Georgia become actual partners for peace in practice? Hopefully, the Lisbon summit will provide some hints.

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