Russia-NATO relations: partnership or confrontation?

By Viktor Denisenko

It is not easy to evaluate the relationship between Russia and NATO. In the public space the attitude toward NATO is negative. This attitude was inherited from the Soviet times, and Russia practically does nothing to change the situation. The statements of Russian authorities also demonstrate this hostile approach. On the other hand, Russia and NATO could be treated at least as partners, since Russia‘s interests are not always totally opposite to the ambitions of the Alliance.


Recently Russia has finally appointed its official representative to NATO, former RF minister of foreign affairs Alexander Grushko, an experienced diplomat who has been working in the USSRsince 1977, later in the RF Ministry of foreign affairs. 


During the period of 2008-2011 Russia’s permanent envoy to NATO was Dmitry Rogozin famous for his nationalistic attitudes. Then it was said that by appointing Rogozin Moscow tried to give a sign that in the relations with NATO Russia will stick to its firm position. The fact of Rogozin‘s appointment demonstrated that Russia was reluctant to improve relations with NATO or could even be preparing for a more serious diplomatic confrontation.


When in December 2011 Dmitry Rogozin was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of RF, it was necessary to appoint a new national envoy to NATO. As we could see, this procedure took more time than expected and it means that Moscow didn’t give preference to the relations with NATO. They would hardly improve after the appointment of Alexander Grushko since he will have to solve serious problems, first of all the deployment the US anti-missile elements in Eastern Europe. Another problematic aspect is possible NATO’s expansion (especially Georgia’s membership in the Alliance).


It would not be right to say that a hidden or latent confrontation is a key principle of Russia-NATO relationship. The Russia-NATO cooperation commenced back in 1977 after signing the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between Russia and NATO. The next stage was the Rome Declaration „NATO- Russia Relations: A New Quality“ signed in 2002 which served as the basis for the establishment of the Russia-NATO Council. 


The list of interests uniting Russia and NATO is not so short and includes the fight against the international terrorism, cooperation in the sphere of security in Afghanistan (first of all drug trafficking), sea rescue/search operations and general military training. There is also a theoretical possibility of military cooperation in coordinating the actions in case of a military conflict with a third country. Unfortunately, geopolitical disagreements between the countries overpower the common initiatives.


The fact that Moscow allowed to establish a transit centre in Ulyanovsk also demonstrates that cooperation between Russia and NATO is possible. This Centre serves as a transit point for NATO’s cargo from/to Afghanistan. Although the response of Russian society to the „NATO base“ in the territory of Russia is hostile, Russian authorities seemed not to have doubts concerning this decision.


Yet, there are also quite many signs of mutual distrust between Russia and NATO, including the suspicions concerning hostile actions in the virtual space. NATO has been executing military training for several years aimed at coordinating the actions of the Alliancein response to cyber attacks. Although Russiain the above training is not identified as a potential opponent, it is perceived that Russia (as well as China and Iran) might try to join the cyber confrontation with the Alliance.


At the beginning of October Russia’s Defense Ministry launched a tender for research in the field of information security. The Ministry is interested in the methods and measures to bypass the antivirus systems, network and operational protection means, and does not reject a possibility to employ young and gifted hackers in the ministry.  


In fact, confrontation in the virtual space is quite realistic. Although today it is difficult to prove the above facts, most likely the roots of cyber attacks against Estonia (the 2007 attacks related to the Bronze Soldier events) and Lithuania (the 2008 attacks related to prohibition of Soviet symbols) are in Russia.


Dualism related to Russia-NATO relations at least now seems to be an invincible task in the cooperation path and today we could discern the signs of a cold war between Russia and NATO. This hostility could hardly lead to actual military confrontation, but conflicts in the political and virtual space are quite possible if the Alliance will not regulate new challenges to security and possible response to these challenges (e.g. is it possible to use military actions against cyber attacks?).