Will NATO’s new head lead to new thinking about Russia?

09.10.14

Will NATO’s new head lead to new thinking about Russia?

Эксперты МГИМО: Истомин Игорь Александрович, к.полит.н.

After last week’s appointment of Jens Stoltenberg as NATO’s new Secretary General, we asked experts whether the former Norwegian prime minister will improve NATO’s relationship with Russia.

While Russia and NATO have been trading barbs over the Ukrainian crisis and are struggling to overcome this standoff in their relations, the Oct. 1 appointment of NATO’s new Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, was met with optimism by some experts and officials.

For example, former NATO consultant John Wallace sees Stoltenberg as a person who is ready to come up with compromise solutions, as someone who «is expected to take a softer and more consensus-based approach», as quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

«He [Stoltenberg] stated that he is open-minded about the possibility of repairing the relationship and putting the NATO-Russia Council back into effect», he told the Center on Global Interests in Washington on Oct. 8.

Meanwhile, some Russian experts remain very leery toward the new NATO Secretary General. Among them is Alexey Fenenko, a researcher at the Institute of International Security Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences and an associate professor at Moscow State University.

«There is nothing good in this [the appointment of Stoltenberg] for Russia-NATO relations, because Scandinavian countries, except Finland, are always negative toward Russia», he told RIA Novosti. Fenenko also pointed out that Russia and NATO have always seen each other as strategic competitors and that anti-Russian rhetoric will be persistent as long as the Ukrainian crisis continues.

At the same time, there seem to be no unequivocal indicators that NATO is going to toughen its position vis-à-vis Russia or improve its relations with Moscow. Even though NATO recently conducted the 2014 Rapid Trident military exercises in Ukraine, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will expand closer to the Russian border, which the Kremlin would see as a threat. As Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said after the meeting with Stoltenberg this week, NATO has no plans to provide direct military assistance to Ukraine.

However, some of Stoltenberg’s statements might be met with suspicion in the Kremlin. During his recent visit to Poland, the new NATO head said that the Alliance could deploy its forces wherever it wants. «NATO has a strong army after all. We can deploy it wherever we want to», Stoltenberg told Poland’s state broadcaster TVP Info. «These capabilities already exist. We have them, and we can deploy them in individual regions. And this is only an add-on to what the alliance already has».

Given these recent developments, Russia Direct got in touch with Russian and foreign experts as well as with NATO officials to figure out what Moscow should expect from the new NATO head.

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Igor Istomin, senior lecturer in the Department of Applied International Analysis of Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University).

As NATO’s policies are formed based on the agreement between its member states, the Secretary General only represents these decisions and transforms them into specific actions. Therefore, his influence on the decision-making process is very limited.

This is evident from the example of the previous Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who in the beginning of his term in 2009, repeatedly stressed the importance of building good relations with Russia. His position today is completely different and follows the general logic of NATO.

The explanation for such a change in thinking lies in the general interests of NATO. In 2009 the goal of the bloc was to rebuild its relations with Russia after the war in Georgia, while in 2014 the allies are eager to show their discontentment with Russia’s policy over Ukraine. That’s why the new Secretary General’s role will be strictly representative and may be used rather as an indicator of NATO’s thinking.

At the moment, the allies are not that eager to be involved in any campaigns abroad. The bloc is focused on ensuring the security of its members as a response to the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s policies in the region.

The relations between Russia and NATO today are characterized by two things. First, there is no real probability of a direct military conflict between NATO and Russian forces — claims of locating additional NATO forces in Central Europe are of a demonstrative nature not significantly changing the balance of power in Europe.

Second, with International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) leaving Afghanistan, there are almost no areas where NATO and Russia could cooperate. In these circumstances, the interaction between the two parties has a more virtual nature, lacking any substance. So, while there is no possibility for military conflict, there are no preconditions for rapprochement either.

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Источник: Russia Direct
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