Russia and the West
Yesterday, at Practica di Mare Air Base in Italy, the leaders of the 19 member countries of NATO and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Rome declaration establishing a new NATO-Russia Council (the so-called Group of 20). In opening the summit, NATO General Secretary George Robertson said that Russia and NATO were taking their relationship to a new level, because previous forms had become inadequate.
According to Robertson, because new challenges require an adequate response from us, the Group of 20 is being established. The signing of the Rome declaration marks the beginning of a fundamentally new relationship between Russia and NATO.
Vladimir Putin stated at the summit meeting that “the Rome document is not a declaration of intent but rather a firm basis for joint constructive cooperation.” He added, “The decision to transform relations between Russia and NATO into a new quality partnership is correctly perceived by millions of Russians. The starting point here is a clear understanding that neither nuclear missile capability nor Cold War obligations can be a panacea for contemporary threats.” The Russian president emphasized that the new form of a relationship between Russia and NATO “is the direct reflection of a new level of mutual understanding.” “We don’t have an alternative.”
Many well-known politicians and state officials already referred to this fact as an event of global importance toward overcoming existing disagreements between Russia and NATO. Many Russian and foreign policy experts believe that Moscow’s participation in the Group of 20’s decision-making process is in line with Russian foreign policy pragmatism, the priorities of which (including Russia’s integration into Europe) were clearly identified in the head of state’s address to Russia’s Federation Council.
Let’s recall that the issue of qualitative change in Russia-NATO relations was first raised after the terrorist attacks in the United States last year. The official documents concerning the new mode of cooperation between the parties were initialed on May 14,  in Reykjavik.
The primary difference between the council now being formed and the Joint Permanent Council is that the new council will no longer be a consultative but rather an executive body. Russia and the alliance’s member countries will be able to operate within it as independent states, each with the right to express its own opinion. For the first time, Russia will have an opportunity to participate on equal terms in developing and implementing collective decisions on issues such as the struggle against terrorism, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, resolution of crises, peacemaking operations, and rescue operations at sea.
At the same time, within the new council, NATO and Russian military doctrines will not be merged. As Aleksander Yakovenko, the official representative of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pointed out, “In the field of defense, Russia and NATO are self-sufficient entities.” In his view, the effectiveness of the evolving mechanism “will be largely dependent on everyday, painstaking efforts by politicians, diplomats, and military officials.”
“The establishment of the Group of 20 does not mean that we now see all security issues in the same way,” the Russian diplomat said. In particular, he recalled NATO’s eastward expansion, which increases no one’s security. In this connection, Yakovenko indicated that what would be of special importance to Russia “is compliance by NATO countries with their obligations, restraint in the military sphere, and strict compliance with respect to arms-control agreements, mainly the adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.”
On the eve of the Rome summit, the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Adm. Guido Venturoni, while participating in the opening of the NATO Liaison Mission in Moscow, met with Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s defense minister. By the way, the ceremony was held on the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Founding Act between Russia and NATO. And as Sergei Ivanov said in this regard, “A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, but the main thing is that the document that will be signed in Rome will create a qualitatively different relationship between Russia and NATO.”
Russia’s military chief placed great emphasis on the word “qualitatively,” explaining that “the parties will jointly bear the responsibility for making decisions.”
Russia’s defense minister then noted that new relations called for closer cooperation among defense departments. “We have chosen those kinds of cooperation that will establish a long-term foundation,” he stressed. “And we will talk about the threats we face. I think we need to concentrate on developing ways of cooperating in these areas. I am convinced that there will be work for the military to do, and the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya is evidence of that.”
Venturoni said that all parties share the following problems: terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. But the main threat remains the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. As he emphasized, efforts are being made not only by military officials; it requires a “multilateral approach.”