NATO–Russia relations

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  The Russian Federation

NATO–Russian relations, relations between the NATO military alliance and the Russian Federation were established in 1991 within the framework of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council,.[1] In 1994 Russia joined the Partnership for Peace programme.[2] During the 1990s, the two sides signed several important agreements on cooperation.[3]

The Russia–NATO council was set up in 2002, for handling security issues and joint projects. Cooperation between Russia and NATO now develops in several main sectors: fighting terrorism, military cooperation, cooperation on Afghanistan (including transportation by Russia of non-military International Security Assistance Force freight (see NATO logistics in the Afghan War), and fighting the local drug production), industrial cooperation, non-proliferation, and others.

On 1 April 2014, NATO unanimously decided to suspend practical co-operation with the Russian Federation, in response to the Ukraine crisis.[4]

Post-Cold War cooperation

Coat of arms of the Permanent Mission of Russia to NATO[5]

Formal contacts and cooperation between Russia and NATO started in 1991, within the framework of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (later renamed Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council) and were further deepened as Russia joined the Partnership for Peace programme on June 22, 1994.[6]

On 27 May 1997, at the NATO summit in Paris, Nato and Russia signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security,[7] a road map for would-be NATO-Russia cooperation. The parties stated they did not see each other as adversaries, and, ″based on an enduring political commitment undertaken at the highest political level, will build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security″.

In December 2009, NATO approached Russia for help in Afghanistan, requesting permission for the alliance to fly cargo (including possibly military ones) over Russian territory to Afghanistan, and to provide more helicopters for the Afghan armed forces.[8] Russia has so far denied these requests, although it has continued to allow transit of non-military supplies through its territory.[9]

On 6 June 2011, NATO and Russia participated in their first ever joint fighter jet exercise, dubbed "Vigilant Skies 2011". Since the Cold War, this is only the second joint military venture between the alliance and Russia, with the first being a joint submarine exercise which begun on 30 May 2011.[10]

In April 2012, there were some protests in Russia over their country's involvement with NATO, mostly made up of Ultranationalist and Pro Leftist groups.[11]

Reuters reported in February 2014 that Russia and NATO were drawing up plans to jointly guard the MV Cape Ray as it is used to dismantle Syrian chemical weapons.[12]

Suspension of cooperation and military build-up


In early March 2014, tensions increased between NATO and Russia as a result of the Ukrainian crisis and Russia's move to annex of Crimea: NATO urged Russia to stop its actions and said it supported Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty.[13] On 1 April 2014, NATO issued a statement by NATO foreign ministers that announced it had "decided to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia. Our political dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council can continue, as necessary, at the Ambassadorial level and above, to allow us to exchange views, first and foremost on this crisis".[4][14] The statement condemned Russia’s "illegal military intervention in Ukraine and Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity".[14]

In spring, the Russian Defense Ministry announced it was planning to deploy additional forces in Crimea as part of beefing up its Black Sea Fleet,[15][16] including re-deployment by 2016 of nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-22M3 ('Backfire') long-range strike bombers — which used to be the backbone of Soviet naval strike units during the Cold War, but were later withdrawn from bases in Crimea.[17] Such moves alarmed NATO: in November NATO's top military commander US General Philip Breedlove said that the alliance was "watching for indications" amid fears over the possibility that Russia could move any of its nuclear arsenal to the peninsula.[18] In December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said this would be a legitimate action as "Crimea has now become part of a country that has such weapons under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons."[19]

At the NATO Wales summit in early September, the NATO-Ukraine Commission adopted a Joint Statement that "strongly condemned Russia’s illegal and illegitimate self-declared "annexation" of Crimea and its continued and deliberate destabilization of eastern Ukraine in violation of international law";[20] this position was re-affirmed in the early December statement by the same body.[21]

A report released in November highlighted the fact that close military encounters between Russia and the West (mainly NATO countries) had jumped to Cold War levels, with 40 dangerous or sensitive incidents recorded in the eight months alone, including a near-collision between a Russian reconnaissance plane and a passenger plane taking off from Denmark in March with 132 passengers on board.[22] An unprecedented increase[23] in Russian air force and naval activity in the Baltic region prompted NATO to step up its longstanding rotation of military jets in Lithuania.[24] Similar Russian air force increased activity in the Asia-Pacific region that relied on the resumed use of the previously abandoned Soviet military base at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.[25] In March 2015, Russia's defense minister Sergey Shoygu said that Russia's long-range bombers would continue patrolling various parts of the world and expand into other regions.[26]

In July, the U.S. formally accused Russia of having violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing a prohibited medium-range ground-launched cruise missile (presumably R-500,[27] a modification of Iskander)[28] and threatened to retaliate accordingly.[28][29] In early June 2015, the U.S. State Department reported that Russia had failed to correct the violation of the I.N.F. Treaty; the U.S. government was said to have made no discernible headway in making Russia so much as acknowledge the compliance problem.[30] The US government's October 2014 report claimed that Russia had 1,643 nuclear warheads ready to launch (an increase from 1,537 in 2011) – one more than the US, thus overtaking the US for the first time since 2000; both countries' deployed capacity being in violation of the 2010 New START treaty that sets a cap of 1,550 nuclear warheads.[31][32] Likewise, even before 2014, the US had set about implementing a large-scale program, worth up to a trillion dollars, aimed at overall revitalization of its atomic energy industry, which includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers and construction of such sites as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico and the National Security Campus in south Kansas City.[33][34]

At the end of 2014, Putin approved a revised national military doctrine, which listed NATO’s military buildup near the Russian borders as the top military threat.[35][36]

The Spearhead Force

On 2 December 2014, NATO foreign ministers announced an interim Spearhead Force (the 'Very High Readiness Joint Task Force') created pursuant to the Readiness Action Plan agreed on at the NATO Wales summit in early September 2014 and meant to enhance NATO presence in the eastern part of the alliance.[37][38] In June 2015, in the course of military drills held in Poland, NATO tested the new rapid reaction force for the first time, with more than 2,000 troops from nine states taking part in the exercise.[39][40] Upon the end of the drills, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the Spearhead Force deployed in Eastern Europe would be increased to 40,000 troops.[41]


In early February 2015, NATO diplomats said that concern was growing in NATO over Russia's nuclear strategy and indications that Russia's nuclear strategy appeared to point to a lowering of the threshold for using nuclear weapons in any conflict.[42] The conclusion was followed by British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon saying that Britain must update its nuclear arsenal in response to Russian modernization of its nuclear forces.[43] Later in February, Fallon said that Putin could repeat tactics used in Ukraine in Baltic members of the NATO alliance; he also said: "NATO has to be ready for any kind of aggression from Russia, whatever form it takes. NATO is getting ready."[44] Fallon noted that it was not a new cold war with Russia, as the situation was already “pretty warm”.[44]

In March 2015, Russia, citing NATO's de facto breach of the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, said that the suspension of its participation in it, announced in 2007, was now "complete" through halting its participation in the consulting group on the Treaty.[45][46]

Early April 2015 saw the publication of the leaked information ascribed to semi-official sources within the Russian military and intelligence establishment, about Russia's alleged preparedness for a nuclear response to certain inimical non-nuclear acts on the part of NATO; such implied threats were interpreted as "an attempt to create strategic uncertainty" and undermine Western political cohesion.[47] Also in this vein, Norway’s defense minister, Ine Eriksen Soreide, noted that Russia had "created uncertainty about its intentions".[48]

In June 2015, an independent Russian military analyst was quoted by a major American newspaper as saying: “Everybody should understand that we are living in a totally different world than two years ago. In that world, which we lost, it was possible to organize your security with treaties, with mutual-trust measures. Now we have come to an absolutely different situation, where the general way to ensure your security is military deterrence.”[49]

On 16 June 2015, Tass quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov as saying that "none of the Russia-NATO programs that used to be at work are functioning at a working level."[50]

In late June 2015, while on a trip to Estonia, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said the U.S. would deploy heavy weapons, including tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery, in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.[51] The move was interpreted by Western commentators as marking the beginning of a reorientation of NATO′s strategy.[52] It was called by a senior Russian Defence Ministry official ″the most aggressive act by Washington since the Cold War″[53] and criticised by the Russian Foreign Ministry as "inadequate in military terms" and "an obvious return by the United States and its allies to the schemes of ‘the Cold War’".[54][55] On its part, the U.S. expressed concern over Putin's announcement of plans to add over 40 new ballistic missiles to Russia′s nuclear weapons arsenal in 2015.[53] American observers and analysts, such as Steven Pifer, noting that the U.S. had no reason for alarm about the new missiles, provided that Russia remained within the limits of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), viewed the ratcheting-up of nuclear saber-rattling by Russia′s leadership as mainly bluff and bluster designed to conceal Russia′s weaknesses;[56] however, Pifer suggested that the most alarming motivation behind this rhetoric could be Putin seeing nuclear weapons not merely as tools of deterrence, but as tools of coercion.[57] Meanwhile, at the end of June 2015, it was reported that the production schedule for a new Russian MIRV-equipped, super-heavy thermonuclear intercontinental ballistic missile Sarmat, intended to replace the obsolete Soviet-era SS-18 Satan missiles, was slipping.[58] Also noted by commentators were the inevitable financial and technological constraints that would hamper any real arms race with the West, if such course were to be embarked on by Russia.[49]

NATO-Russia tensions rose further after, on 24 November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that allegedly violated Turkish airspace while on a mission in northwestern Syria.[59] Russian officials denied that the plane had entered Turkish airspace. Shortly after the incident, NATO called an emergency meeting to discuss the matter.

On 2 December 2015, NATO member states formally invited Montenegro to join the alliance, which drew a response from Russia that it would suspend cooperation with that country.[60]


Shortly before a meeting of the Russia–NATO Council at the level of permanent representatives on 20 April, the first such meeting since June 2014,[61] Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov cited what he saw as "an unprecedented military buildup since the end of the Cold War and the presence of NATO on the so-called eastern flank of the alliance with the goal of exerting military and political pressure on Russia for containing it", and said "Russia does not plan and will not be drawn into a senseless confrontation and is convinced that there is no reasonable alternative to mutually beneficial all-European cooperation in security sphere based on the principle of indivisibility of security relying on the international law."[62][63] After the meeting, the Russian ambassador to NATO said Russia was feeling comfortable without having co-operative relations with the alliance; he noted that at the time Russia and NATO had no positive agenda to pursue.[64] The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said: "Nato and Russia have profound and persistent disagreements. Today’s meeting did not change that."[65] [66] [67] The opening of the first site of the NATO missile defence system in Deveselu, Romania, in May 2016 led Russia to reiterate its position that the U.S.-built system undermined Russia’s security, posed ″direct threat to global and regional security″, was in violation of the INF, and that measures were ″being taken to ensure the necessary level of security for Russia″.[68]

The NATO summit held in Warsaw in July 2016 approved the plan to move four battalions totaling 3,000 to 4,000 troops on a rotating basis by early 2017 into the Baltic states and eastern Poland and increase air and sea patrols to reassure allies who were once part of the Soviet bloc.[69] The adopted Communique explained that the decision was meant "to unambiguously demonstrate, as part of our overall posture, Allies’ solidarity, determination, and ability to act by triggering an immediate Allied response to any aggression."[70] The summit reaffirmed NATO′s previously taken decision to "suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia, while remaining open to political dialogue with Russia".[71] Heads of State and Government "condemned Russia’s ongoing and wide-ranging military build-up" in Crimea and expressed concern over "Russia’s efforts and stated plans for further military build-up in the Black Sea region".[72] They also stated that Russia’s "significant military presence and support for the regime in Syria", and its military build-up in the Eastern Mediterranean "posed further risks and challenges for the security of Allies and others".[73] NATO leaders agreed to step up support for Ukraine: in a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, the Allied leaders reviewed the security situation with president of Ukraine Poroshenko, welcomed the government’s plans for reform, and endorsed a Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine aimed to "help make Ukraine’s defence and security institutions more effective, efficient and accountable".[74] At the meeting of the Russia–NATO Council at the level of permanent representatives that was held shortly after the Warsaw summit, Russia admonished NATO against intensifying its military activity in the Black Sea.[75] Russia also said it agreed to have its military aircraft pilots flying over the Baltic region turn on the cockpit transmitters, known as transponders, if NATO planes acted likewise.[76]

Mid-July 2016, Russia′s military announced that a regiment of long-range surface-to-air S-400 weapon system would be deployed in the city of Feodosia in Crimea in August that year, beefing up Russia’s anti-access/area-denial capabilities around the peninsula.[77][78]

NATO–Russia Council

Meeting of the NATO–Russia council in Bucharest, Romania on 4 April 2008

The NATO-Russia Council was created on 28 May 2002 during the 2002 NATO Summit in Rome. The council has been an official diplomatic tool for handling security issues and joint projects between NATO and Russia, involving "consensus-building, consultations, joint decisions and joint actions." [79][80]

"Joint decisions and actions", taken under NATO-Russia Council agreements, include fighting terrorism,[81][82] military cooperation (joint military exercises[83] and personnel training[84]), cooperation on Afghanistan (Russia providing training courses for anti-narcotics officers from Afghanistan and Central Asia countries in cooperation with the UN), transportation by Russia of non-military freight in support of NATO's ISAF in Afghanistan, industrial cooperation, cooperation on defence interoperability, non-proliferation, and other areas.[3]

The heads of state for NATO Allies and Russia gave a positive assessment of NATO-Russia Council achievements in a Bucharest summit meeting in April 2008,[80] though both sides have expressed mild discontent with the lack of actual content resulting from the council. In January 2009, the Russian envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said the NATO-Russia council was "a body where scholastic discussions were held." A US official shared this view, stating: "We want now to structure cooperation more practically, in areas where you can achieve results, instead of insisting on things that won't happen."[85]

Conflicts of interests

Georgia war and recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Relations between Russia and NATO soured in summer 2008 due to Russia's war with Georgia. Later the North Atlantic Council condemned Russia for recognizing the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia as independent states.[86] The Secretary General of NATO claimed that Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia violated numerous UN Security Council resolutions, including resolutions endorsed by Russia. Russia, in turn, insisted the recognition was taken basing on the situation on the ground, and was in line with the UN Charter, the CSCE Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and other fundamental international law;[87] Russian media heavily stressed the precedent of the recent Kosovo declaration of independence.

Relations were further strained in May 2009 when NATO expelled two Russia diplomats over accusations of espionage. It has also added to the tension already created by proposed NATO military exercises in Georgia, as the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said,

"The planned NATO exercises in Georgia, no matter how one tries to convince us otherwise, are an overt provocation. One cannot carry out exercises in a place where there was just a war."[88]

Before the Russian Parliamentary elections in 2011, President Dmitry Medvedev was also quoted as saying that had Russia not joined the 2008 South Ossetia war, NATO would have expanded further eastward.[89]

NATO Missile defence

Further information: NATO missile defence system

The Russian Government says that a US proposed missile defence system in Poland and in the Czech Republic could threaten its own defences. The Russian Space Forces commander, Colonel General Vladimir Popovkin stated in 2007 that "[the] trajectories of Iranian or Korean missiles would hardly pass anywhere near the territory of the Czech republic, but every possible launch of Russian ICBM from the territory of the European Russia, or made by Russian Northern Fleet would be controlled by the [radar] station".[90][91]

However, in 2009, Barack Obama cancelled the missile defence project in Poland and Czech Republic after Russia threatened the US with military response, and warned Poland that by agreeing to NATO's anti-missile system, it was exposing itself to a strike or nuclear attack from Russia.[92]

Russia has also warned against moving defensive missiles to Turkey's border with Syria.[93][94]

In February 2010, Romania announced a deal with the US for an anti-missile defence system, which Russia interpreted as a threat to its national security. [95]

Future enlargement plans of NATO to Ukraine and Georgia

The Russian Government believes plans to expand NATO to Ukraine and Georgia may negatively affect European security. Likewise, Russians are mostly strongly opposed to any eastward expansion of NATO.[96][97] The former President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev stated in 2008 that "no country would be happy about a military bloc to which it did not belong approaching its borders".[98][99]

Suggestions of Russia joining NATO

The idea of Russia becoming a NATO member has at different times been floated by both Western and Russian leaders, as well as some experts.[100]

In 1990, while negotiating German reunification at the end of the Cold War with United States Secretary of State James Baker, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev said that "You say that NATO is not directed against us, that it is simply a security structure that is adapting to new realities ... therefore, we propose to join NATO." However, Baker dismissed the possibility as a "dream".[101]

In March 2009, the Polish Foreign Minister, Radosław Sikorski, suggested including Russia in NATO.[85] Speaking to one of the main Polish daily newspapers after the lecture, Mr Sikorski explained, 'I stand by everything I said, but that doesn't mean I'm inviting Russia to join the NATO. I simply presented a certain hypothetical vision, a reference to a debate that took place in the NATO in the mid-1990s. Then, under the Clinton administration, there was a debate on whether, and on what terms, Russia could become a member of the Alliance.'[102] Russian leadership, however, made it clear Russia did not plan to join the alliance, preferring to keep cooperation on a lower level now. In March 2009, the Russian envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, in response to Radosław Sikorski′s proposal, while not ruling out NATO membership at some point in the future, was quoted as saying: "Great powers don't join coalitions, they create coalitions. Russia considers itself a great power."[85]

In early 2010, the suggestion was repeated in an open letter co-written by German defense experts General Klaus Naumann, Frank Elbe, Ulrich Weisser, and former German Defense Minister Volker Rühe. The letter′s authors posited that Russia was needed in the wake of an emerging multi-polar world in order for NATO to counterbalance emerging Asian powers.[103]

In Sept 2010, in New York, the NATO-Russia Council met for the first time after relations were suspended as a result of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war of 2008; on the eve of the meeting, the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, Ivo Daalder, mentioned the hypothetical possibility of Russia joining NATO.[104]

Ideology and propaganda

Both Russia and NATO have been said to be engaged in a propaganda war, and both sides fund several media outlets that help spread their message.[105] Russia funds international broadcasters such as RT, Rossiya Segodnya (including Sputnik), and TASS.[106] as well as several domestic media networks.[107][108] NATO countries fund international broadcasters such as Voice of America and the BBC World Service. Russian media has been particularly critical of the United States.[109][110] In 2014, Russia cut off Voice of America radio transmissions after Voice of America criticized Russia's actions in Ukraine.[111] Russia's freedom of the press has received low scores in the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders, and Russia limits foreign ownership stakes of media organizations to no greater than 20%.[112] In January 2015, the UK, Denmark, Lithuania and Estonia called on the European Union to jointly confront Russian propaganda by setting up a "permanent platform" to work with NATO in strategic communications and boost local Russian-language media.[113] On 19 January 2015, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said the EU planned to establish a Russia-language mass media body with a target Russian-speaking audience in Eastern Partnership countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, as well as in the European Union countries.[114]

Vladimir Putin has presented Eurasianism[115] and "Putinism" as an alternative to the Western ideals espoused by many NATO countries.[116] Putinism combines state capitalism with authoritarian nationalism.[116] Putin and Russia as a whole lost respect for the values and moral authority of the West, creating a "values gap" between Russia and the West.[117] Putin has promoted his brand of conservative Russian values, and has emphasized the importance of religion.[118] Gay rights have divided Russia and many NATO countries, as the United States and some European countries have used their soft power to promote the protection of gay rights in Eastern Europe.[119] Russia, on the other hand, has hindered the freedom of homosexuality and earned support from those opposed to gay marriage.[119][120]

In March 2016, Vladimir Putin′s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia was at ″information war″ primarily with ″Anglo-Saxon mass media″.[121]

Trade and economy

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation moved towards a more open economy with less state intervention, and Russia became an important part of the global economy.[122] In 1998, Russia joined the G8, a forum of eight large developed countries, six of which are members of NATO. In 2012, Russia joined the World Trade Organization, an organization of governments committed to reducing tariffs and other trade barriers. These increased economic ties gave Russia access to new markets and capital, as well as political clout in the West and other countries. Russian gas exports came to be viewed as a weapon against NATO countries,[123] and the US and other Western countries have worked to lessen the dependency of Europe on Russia and its resources.[124] The Russian economy is heavily dependent on the export of natural resources such as oil natural gas, and Russia has used these resources to its advantage. Starting in the mid-2000s, Russia and Ukraine had several disputes in which Russia threatened to cut off the supply of gas. As a great deal of Russia's gas is exported to Europe through the pipelines crossing Ukraine, those disputes affected several NATO countries. While Russia claimed the disputes had arisen from Ukraine's failure to pay its bills, Russia may also have been motivated by a desire to punish the pro-Western government that came to power after the Orange Revolution.[125]

While Russia's new role in the global economy presented Russia with several opportunities, it also made the Russian Federation more vulnerable to external economic trends and pressures.[126] Like many other countries, Russia's economy suffered during the Great Recession. Following the Crimean Crisis, several countries (including most of NATO) imposed sanctions on Russia, hurting the Russian economy by cutting off access to capital.[127] At the same time, the global price of oil declined.[128] The combination of Western sanctions and the falling crude price in 2014 and thereafter resulted in the 2014–15 Russian financial crisis.[128]

See also


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