Will Moldova join NATO

NATO and Russia - sober reflections and practical proposals
Ionian Sea, February 15, 2006: British destroyer "HMS Nottingham" and Russian cruiser "Moskva" during training activities to prepare Russian naval personnel for participation in Operation Active Endeavor. (© NATO)
Dmitri Trenin is reviewing the status of relations between NATO and Russia.
For almost a decade after the establishment of the Russian Federation, NATO affairs were a central theme of Russian foreign policy. The alliance was both a symbol of the Cold War and the most important Western group of states. Russia vacillated between half-hearted efforts to join the alliance on special terms and fruitless attempts to prevent its neighbors from membership as a guarantee of security against Russia itself.

Three factors characterized relationships during the 1990s:

Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the use of force by NATO / the United States led to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 and later the peacekeeping operations involving Russian forces led by NATO.

The invitation to join NATO (1997) for Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary as well as the admission of these countries to the alliance (1999), which was a bitter pill for Moscow, through the establishment of the Permanent Joint Council (PJC) , a body for consultations between Russia and the Alliance was only slightly sweetened.

The Kosovo crisis of 1999, which, despite the most vehement Russian protests, led to the 78 days of NATO air raids on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Despite these difficult issues, Russia continued to participate in SFOR operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in June 1999 wanted to be included in KFOR - again under the leadership of NATO. However, by the end of Boris Yeltsin's tenure in the Kremlin, relations between Russia and NATO were frozen at a low point.

A newbeginning?

At the beginning of President Vladimir Putin's first term in office, there were hopes of a fresh start. Some believed that Russia's accession to NATO would be a miracle cure that would put an end to previous hostility forever and usher in an era of genuine friendship. But it shouldn't turn out that way. Relations were restored and membership reconsidered, again to no avail.

However, there were unexpected benefits. A few weeks after September 11, US-led military operations eliminated the most serious external threat that threatened Russia after the end of the Cold War, namely the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Soon after, NATO forces took on the task of helping to stabilize Afghanistan in what marked the Alliance's first major military operation outside of NATO territory. From Moscow's point of view, an alliance that had stood against the Soviet Union in Central Europe for decades had developed into a coalition of states that supported Russia's protection against Central Asia, Russia's most vulnerable flank.

In 2002, the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was set up to reorganize relations between the Alliance and Russia. In contrast to the PJC, which is essentially a bilateral body, 27 states are represented at the meetings of the new NRC, so that each state participates individually on the basis of equality. In this way, relations between Russia and NATO were able to survive and develop further, although from 2003 Moscow pursued a more independent and self-confident foreign policy line and Russia's relationship with NATO gradually deteriorated.

The NRC meets regularly - most recently in June 2007 in St. Petersburg and in Moscow on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of its founding. Russia has a representation at NATO headquarters and a military office at the Allied Command for Operations (SHAPE), while NATO has both a military liaison office and an information office in Moscow. There are a number of common interests ranging from combating terrorism to taking action against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

After changeful developments in the 1990s and solid improvements in the early part of this century, which was recently followed by a deterioration in relationships, it is clear that if relationships are to improve now, it is clear that significant efforts must be made on both sides.
Under the aegis of the NRC, 17 subordinate bodies deal with central areas of cooperation. Joint exercises are occasionally carried out in areas such as crisis response measures. Russian warships are now participating in NATO's anti-terrorist operation as part of the Active Endeavor naval operation. Moscow has signed a PfP agreement on the status of troops with NATO and allows Germany and France to use a corridor through Russian territory on the way to Afghanistan. In the reform of the defense sector and the cooperation between armed forces of different countries (especially in the program for military interoperability between NATO and Russia) as well as in search and rescue missions at sea and in the context of a joint pilot project to train Central Asian and Afghan anti-drug specialists, in many areas worked together.

The Russians undoubtedly understand NATO much better today than they did in the 1990s, and all of this gives the relationship a certain stability and predictability, even if expectations on both sides have been somewhat weakened.


There is a deeply ambivalent attitude towards the current situation in Moscow. Russia treats NATO not so much as a partner, but rather as a geopolitical "factor". Russia now has a window to the alliance, but still no handle to open this window. It expresses strong objections to anything it regards as a negative development:
  • the possibility of Georgia and Ukraine joining the alliance;
  • the temporary use of existing military facilities in Bulgaria and Romania (on a rotating basis) by the United States;
  • the planned stationing of parts of an American anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
In addition, Russia has several other concerns of concern: the delay in ratification of the revised CFE Treaty by NATO countries and the reluctance of the Alliance to establish formal relations with the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), which is led by Russia .

Some of the newer NATO members still have memories of Soviet domination. For this reason Moscow is now focusing on bilateral relations with individual European states, concentrating on remaining sympathies in Central Europe and hoping to gain further sympathies in the West.

It is clear, however, that five years after the Rome Declaration on this subject and ten years after the Paris Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, relations between Russia and NATO do not show any significant convergence. However, these relationships continue to be of great importance. They must be cultivated with care so that inevitable rivalries can be kept to a minimum and cooperation can be expanded as much as possible.


As far as the enlargement of NATO is concerned, Moscow would do well to leave the decision on it to the respective states concerned. Whether or not candidate countries join the alliance (and if so, when) should be left to these states to decide for themselves. Given Moscow's stated goals, Russian intervention can only have negative effects. Russia's official stance of considering joining the alliance as the sovereign right of every single state and focusing on ensuring its own security is perfectly reasonable.

Georgia may reach the Membership Action Plan in spring 2008, which could prepare the country to join the Alliance within a few years. With regard to Ukraine, however, NATO has to admit that the question of membership will likely remain politically controversial and potentially destabilizing. If these circumstances are dealt with calmly on both sides, both sides will help maintain the stability and security of Eastern Europe.

Missile defense

America's missile defense plans, while outside of NATO's jurisdiction, pose both a threat and an opportunity to NATO-Russia relations. The danger is that if Russia is excluded by the United States, anti-Western tendencies will be created could be tightened in Russian security and defense policy, and that is clearly not one of Washington’s goals.

The chance is that if this question were used to improve WMD cooperation, mutual trust could be strengthened. This would lead to closer interaction with regard to the cause of the alleged threat, namely with regard to the Iranian missile and nuclear program. Missile defense cooperation will not be easy, but it is certainly worth trying. As an alternative to the current American plans, President Putin recently proposed a common system that would be based on Russian radar and detection systems as well as information exchange facilities.

The current joint efforts by NATO and Russia in the area of ​​strategic missile defense could provide a model for possible US-Russian cooperation on missile defense issues and lay the foundation for a more integrated and comprehensive approach to European missile defense.

Likewise, the question of medium-range nuclear systems, which are banned under the INF Treaty of 1987 and are now being discussed again by Russian government representatives, calls for close consultations between Russia and NATO so that mutual trust can be strengthened and a destabilizing arms race can be prevented.

CFE contract

Since the CFE Treaty was signed in 1990, it has formed the most important cornerstone of the European security order. He must continue to have this role in the future. Moscow's concern about the accession of the Baltic States to the revised version of the CFE Treaty of 1999 and the pending ratification by the United States and other Western states is real and should be taken seriously, because Russia's withdrawal from the CFE Treaty would be in nobody's interest.

Likewise, the concerns of NATO members about the Moscow implementation of the Istanbul commitments with regard to the Russian troops remaining in Georgia and Moldova call for joint action, even if, in Russia's view, there is no formal link between these commitments and the Ratification of the CFE Treaty in its adapted version.

After President Putin declared a “moratorium” on the treaty earlier this year, Russia called for an extraordinary conference to be held in mid-June. Russia had already delayed some CFE inspections, but after President Putin's meeting with the NATO Secretary General during the NRC anniversary celebrations, inspection rules were resumed. Another positive move by the Russian President was the recommendation that CFE issues be dealt with within the NRC, and that recommendation was followed.

Peacekeeping Measures

The deadlocked Dniester conflict in the Republic of Moldova offers a real opportunity to launch a peace operation for the first time in which Russia and NATO act as equal partners. This is probably the most likely problem of the former Soviet Union to be solved.

The Republic of Moldova has confirmed its intention to refrain from applying to NATO. A peace operation would require limited military and police forces, probably only a few hundred. The participation of Russia is really essential to any solution in the Republic of Moldova, and it can be assumed that it will act as an equal partner to NATO.

Relations between Russia and NATO were able to survive and develop further, although from 2003 Moscow pursued a more independent and self-confident foreign policy line.
If successful, such a joint operation could pave the way for the ratification of the modified CFE Treaty by the Western states. It could also serve as a model for other joint peace missions - most likely in the southern Caucasus - whenever the so-called “Moldova criterion” is met, ie when Russia is interested in finding a solution and is essential for it, but not alone in the conflict in question can solve.

Russia and NATO have been working for several years to increase their interoperability with a view to conducting joint peace operations. Neither the Middle East nor Africa are likely candidates for these plans to be put into practice. Some areas of the former Soviet Union, on the other hand, could - and should, in my opinion - be viewed as ideal test cases for interoperability.


Russia has no cause for glee given the difficulties NATO and the United States are facing in Afghanistan. If the international stabilization efforts in this country fail, Moscow will face a resurgence of the Taliban, which would endanger Russia's weak Central Asian flank. Therefore, closer consultations are clearly needed between Russia and the West on how to stop radical Islamists.

Helping moderate forces keep Kabul and the Afghan provinces under control is a far better alternative than forcing the Northern Alliance back to power in Taloqan.


This in turn leads to the question of relations between NATO and the CSTO. So far, NATO has been very reluctant to establish any formal relationship with this organization, fearing that such a move could seal Russian supremacy in Central Asia.

In reality, there is little evidence of such predominance. Kazakhstan has openly pursued multidirectional policies, successfully balancing Moscow, Beijing and Washington. Uzbekistan's loyalty to Russia is uncertain and, at best, temporary, because Tashkent does not want to be directed by Moscow. Two years after the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) called for the United States to withdraw, Kyrgyzstan continues to allow an American base to exist alongside a small Russian one. Tajikistan has embarked on a foreign policy course that is open in all directions, and its president has de-russified his last name in a symbolic gesture.

Through contacts with the CSTO, NATO could help this organization develop into a more modern regional security arrangement. This would also give Moscow the assurance that NATO has no intention of contesting Russia's role as a major player in Central Asia; anyway, this would not be in the interests of the West.
Since some of the newer NATO members still have memories of Soviet supremacy, Moscow is now focusing on bilateral relations with individual European states.

Agreement on a NATO-CSTO liaison could be reached as part of an overall package under which the SCO will allow the United States to act as an observer. It would be unreasonable for NATO members, Russia and China to continue playing off their regional rivalries against one another, allowing their mutual adversaries to fight them individually.

Relations between NATO and Russia may well have reached a turning point. After changeful developments in the 1990s and solid improvements in the early part of this century, which was recently followed by a deterioration in relations, it is clear that significant efforts must be made by both sides if relations are to improve.

Russia should let its neighbors join the alliance if they so choose. At the same time, NATO should strategically decide which states to offer membership.At least attempts are being made in the direction of cooperation in the field of missile defense - with the exception of the controversial American plans for a European missile defense shield for the time being - so that cooperation in measures against WMD proliferation is given a boost and a basis of confidence for the consultations on the INF Treaty is created. In addition, both sides must take measures to ensure the ratification of the CFE Treaty in its amended version. Interoperability between NATO and Russia can and should also be tested in joint peace operations in areas of the former Soviet Union (e.g. in the Republic of Moldova). Russia and the international community as a whole would also do well to work together to stabilize Afghanistan and halt the flow of drugs from that country. The last point is that NATO should establish contacts with the CSTO.

Such measures would, in my opinion, almost certainly lead to an improvement in the partnership between NATO and Russia.