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NATO-Russia Council: on 20 April the new D-day for the international equilibrium

The next meeting of NATO-Russia Council at Ambassadorial level will take place on Wednesday, 20 April, as announced officially by NATO communication officer. On 12 April it has been decided the date of D-day for the world equilibrium. Since 2014, the international scenario has been marked by two major events: the proclamation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Russia’s policy in Ukraine and its support for the Bashar al-Assad government has worsened the relations with the Atlantic Alliance, which promptly adopted a policy based on «action-reaction» principle. Moreover, the degeneration of the Ukrainian conflict, the ISIL expansion, political tensions between Russia and Turkey (a NATO member state), the migratory crisis and the issue of security in Afghanistan, have been permanently taken in consideration by NATO, which for two years has pursued to maintain political relations with Russia. Now, more than ever, NATO wants a new meeting to avoid any kind of military degeneration. This article will examine the nature of the relations between NATO and Russia in the last two years, and what will be the main issues discussed during the summit scheduled for late April 2016.


According with the declaration made on 8 April by Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, NATO-Russia Council (scheduled for the end of April) would discuss the crisis in and around Ukraine and the need to fully implement the Minsk Agreements. It will discuss military activities, with particular focus on transparency and risk reduction, and will also address the security situation in Afghanistan, including regional terrorist threats. «This meeting is the continuation of our political dialogue, as agreed by NATO Heads of State and Government. At the same time, there will be no return to business as usual until Russia again respects international law» said Stoltenberg. In 2014, after a period of apparent detente, the Russian occupation of Crimea has soured relations with NATO, which had decided to suspend all practical cooperation with Russia in response to the aggressive actions of Russia in Ukraine. However, NATO has continued to maintain a political and military dialogue with Russia in order to monitor the evolution of the crisis in Crimea. In fact, two important meetings were held to monitor the issue.

The first was made on March 14, 2014, during which the former NATO Secretary General, Danish Anders Fogh Rasmussen, stated that he wanted to follow developments in Ukraine with great concern. The so-called “Crimean referendum”, scheduled for March 16, would have been interpreted by NATO as a direct violation of the Ukrainian constitution and international law: without legal effect, at least for the Alliance countries. In fact, during the meeting of all 50 of the Partnership for Peace in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, many partners have shared NATO concerns. According to Rasmussen, the Russian Federation should have been acted responsibly, uphold its obligations under international law and abide by the principles of the NATO-Russia Council and the Partnership for Peace. Dialogue and negotiations should have been given a chance to succeed in bringing about a de-escalation of the situation and a political solution. However, days later the Kremlin put into effect its offensive political by sending the army to the border of the Crimea.

On 11 March 2015, the second meeting attended by Russia’s Ambassador to NATO took place, almost one year after the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea by Russia, which NATO Allies do not recognise. Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) nations expressed deep concern over the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, urging Russia to withdraw its forces and its support for the separatists. All members of the EAPC agreed that the full implementation of the Minsk agreement was the only path to a lasting and peaceful solution. Secretary General Stoltenberg stressed that the ceasefire remained fragile and sporadic violations continued. He said that all parties should have been fully implemented the Minsk agreement in good faith, including Russia. As a first step, he called for a «withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact in a transparent and verifiable manner», with full access to the OSCE monitors. The Secretary General added then that «the stability of the entire Euro-Atlantic region have been undermined, as have the values of national sovereignty and peaceful conflict resolution, values which all members of the EAPC have committed to uphold». Finally, he underlined that the Basic Document of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council contained a joint pledge to promote peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.

The consequences

The Ukrainian and ISIL questions, apparently distant, are intersecting. After the invasive policy in Ukraine, the Kremlin began to support the central Syrian government. In June 2014, the rapid advance of ISIS in northern and eastern Iraq and the military incapacity of central government to fight it, created deep concerns in Western governments and, in particular, in the United States. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called for international intervention and addressed directly the United States, demanding immediate air support. These events have transformed the encroachment of civil war in the regional conflict. Although the Russian Federation has supported politically and military supplies to the Syrian government from the earliest stages of the crisis, since September 2015 there was a significant intensification of contacts between the two governments. On September 15, the United States declared that Russian troops were setting up a new airport with an adjacent military base. At the end of the month, Russia announced that it had reached an agreement with Syria, Iraq and Iran to share intelligence information concerning the Islamic State. After a week, Russian warplanes launched their first airstrikes against opposition targets in Syria, signalling a new and uncertain turn in the long conflict there. Russian officials said the attacks in support of President Bashar Assad’s government targeted positions of Islamic State, the breakaway faction that has seized control of vast areas of Syria and neighbouring Iraq. On 8 October, Jens Stoltenberg said defence ministers had decided to boost response forces to be able to deploy troops speedily. Russia has used cruise missiles as well as air strikes in Syria. The NATO chief said Moscow’s position was unhelpful and announced the doubling of the size of the NATO Response Force to 40,000. The NATO reaction was founded on Russia militarisation. Over a long period of time Russia has deployed advanced military capabilities in Syria, in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, alongside NATO borders in other parts of Europe, in the Baltic Sea, especially in Kaliningrad, in the Black Sea and in Crimea, and in Stoltenberg’s opinion NATO has been adapting. That is the reason why NATO has increased the readiness and the preparedness of their forces, military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, develop and strengthen deterrence and continue to adapt military capabilities. However, even during these two years of tensions the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) has never been suspended. The NRC, established in 2002, is a mechanism for consultation, consensus-building, cooperation, joint decision and joint action, in which the individual NATO member states and Russia work as equal partners on a wide spectrum of security issues of common interest. The members of the NRC, acting in their national capacities and in a manner consistent with their respective collective commitments and obligations, take joint decisions and bear equal responsibility, individually and jointly for their implementation.

On 12 February 2016, after a meeting between NATO Secretary General and Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia, it was convened a future NRC in order to speak about Ukraine, transparency, risk reductions and military activities. On 8 April, after two years arm race, Stoltenberg announced that «Following consultations with Russia, we have agreed to hold a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at Ambassadorial level».

The NATO-Russia issues

The next meeting of NATO-Russia Council at Ambassadorial level will take place on Wednesday, 20 April. NATO thinks that Russia, actually, does not pose an imminent threat to Alliance security; but it is important to control its increased military capabilities, particularly in Eastern Europe. For this reasons, NATO is becoming more agile, has increased its readiness and its response force is now three times bigger than before. NATO deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero said Tuesday the agenda for the April 20 meeting includes the Ukraine crisis and full implementation of the Minsk accords intended to end the fighting there. The Council will also discuss NATO and Russian military activities, with a focus on transparency and risk reduction, as well as the security situation in Afghanistan and regional terror threats. Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has continued to undermine the post-War and post-Cold War international order, an order based on respect for the sovereignty of nations, for the rule of law and for human rights. Moscow’s challenge to the international rules-based order now extends to Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean. In NATO perspective, Russia could still use its influence over Assad to be a force for peace in the Middle East. But it is still unclear whether this is Moscow’s ultimate aim. Engaging with Russia is not to accept the status quo. NATO cannot accept Russia’s aggressive actions, whether in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova or elsewhere. To do so would undermine the security of NATO Allies, its partners, and its values.

As stated several times by the current Secretary General, on one hand NATO has adapted its capabilities for defence purposes, on the other it has never ruled out dialogue with the Russian power. In other times, perhaps, procrastination would not be a means taken into account by NATO and Russia; however, after the end of the Cold War no one seems to want a direct confrontation, or at least a seriously «diplomatic» crisis. For this reason, in the last two years, the dialogue and the mutual monitoring were the most mobilized means, at least by NATO. However, as mentioned in previous article (The nature of EU-NATO relationship), NATO after the end of the Cold War has lost its raison d’être, so it had to adapt its practices and its reactions in front of the international crisis. But now, the global scenario, or at least the one that touches the interests of the Alliance and Russia has become more threatening. The meeting of April 20 shows a sign of reasonableness by the two powers. In fact, the issues that will be discussed not only coincide with the fundamental interests of NATO and Russia, but also with the international community concerns. The statements available until now reveal a clear will, at least by Stoltenberg: NATO does not want a new cold war.

Maria Elena Argano

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Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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