News / Europe

NATO, Russia Move Toward Cooperation

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks at the Caspian summit in Baku, Azerbaijan, 18 Nov 2010
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks at the Caspian summit in Baku, Azerbaijan, 18 Nov 2010
James Brooke

Russia is helping NATO in Afghanistan and keeping an open mind about a NATO missile-defense shield over Europe. 

NATO is offering Russia "a fresh start" - and the Kremlin is interested.

Following a series of friendly meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is to address the NATO-Russia summit Saturday in Lisbon.  This will be the highest-level such meeting since Russia invaded Georgia two years ago and pushed relations to rock bottom.

In Lisbon, Russia's president is expected to offer wider help to the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan.  On the American-led missile defense shield for Europe, he is offering an open mind.

President Obama has noticed the change, saying after meeting with Russia's president Sunday in Japan, "I am glad to have him as an excellent partner on a whole range of issues."

In Moscow, Air Force Commander Alexander Zelin told Interfax after briefing foreign air force attaches, "We will continue developing our air and space defenses and tackling tasks of non-strategic and strategic air defenses.  God willing, we will tackle this task jointly with NATO."

But in November 2008, President Medvedev denounced the American missile-defense plan and vowed to deploy missiles and radar-jamming equipment near Russia's border with Poland.  

Much has changed since then, as Russia's economy has fallen back, and China's economy has jumped forward. 

'Junior partner'

Russian political analyst Konstantin von Eggert says China increasingly treats Russia as a junior partner, is elbowing Russia out of Central Asia, and is leaping ahead of Russia in the quality of its military technologies.  He says the Kremlin took note of China's recent aggressive moves against Japanese and Vietnamese sea claims.

"I have heard quite a few people among the military who say they look east as the rising source of danger," he said.

But on the European end of Russia's Eurasian landmass, Russians say President Obama does not share George W. Bush's interest in expanding NATO to Russia's borders.  A pro-Russian government in Ukraine is essentially dropping Ukraine's NATO candidacy, and Georgia remains embroiled in fights with Russia and two Kremlin-supported secessionist provinces.  As a result, there is little support inside NATO to admit Georgia to Europe's self-defense club.

Moscow analyst Mikhail Troitsky says Russia needs European capital and technology to get its economic growth back.


"You cannot advance in modernization by attracting foreign investment and best practices if you remain in relations of mutual deterrence with the countries that you consider to be the main sources of those technologies.  The rapprochement with NATO is being driven by considerations of that kind," he said.

Indeed, as the Kremlin caters to Russia's middle class, Moscow's loudest demands on Europe have recently been for a visa-free regime for Russian tourists.

Russia's NATO turnaround is most striking with Afghanistan.  During the Bush years, the Kremlin largely complained about the NATO military operation in Afghanistan.  But, with the Obama administration announcing that it will start to end major combat operations in Afghanistan next summer, Russia's leaders are pondering a post-NATO Afghanistan.

Kremlin's major concern

If the drawdown of NATO's 120,000 troops destabilizes the Kabul government, analyst Von Eggert says Islamic fundamentalism could spread north into the five Central Asian nations that once were Soviet republics.

"Russia has in fact transparent, translucent borders with the Central Asian states," he said. "So whatever Islamic radicalism is going to be imported into places like Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, it is going to go all the way - straight to Moscow.  This is something that gives a lot of Russian decision makers creeps."

In Lisbon, Russia is to offer to allow NATO to ship back and forth across Russia heavy lethal equipment, such as armored personnel carriers for to Afghanistan.  Current arrangements allow only for the one-way transport of non-lethal NATO supplies, such as food and fuel.  Last week, Russian cargo planes delivered 20,000 Kalashnikov rifles to Kabul.

At the NATO meeting, Russia is expected to agree to send to Afghanistan 20 MI-17 transport helicopters and to train Afghan pilots and mechanics.  In the late 1970s, Soviet engineers designed these helicopters specifically for the Soviet war in Afghanistan.  In that war, Soviet forces suffered 15,000 dead and 50,000 wounded.

Today Russia's NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin says sending Russian troops to Afghanistan is "taboo."  He tells Ria Novosti, "We have already been in Afghanistan, and we did not like it."

The closest Russia has come is allowing four of its anti-narcotics agents to participate in recent American raids against drug laboratories in Afghanistan.  About two million Russians are addicted to heroin and opium, which largely come from Afghanistan.  On Saturday, Russia is to offer to open a counter-narcotics center near St. Petersburg to train agents from Afghanistan and Central Asia. 

True mood changes?

Russia's new cooperation with NATO has its critics.

Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov warns Interfax the Kremlin is preparing to join "the surviving elements of the Russian Army and Navy to the U.S. and NATO expedition forces.  All this means is that Russia is voluntarily leaving the ranks of the world's leading powers."

Some Europeans wonder if Russia truly plans to cooperate with NATO.  Historically Russia's closest neighbors have given the earliest and most accurate alerts about mood changes of the Russian bear.  

Now, Poland President Bronislaw Komorowski worries the cooperation could be real.  In a newspaper essay, he warns about NATO developing relations with Russia "at the expense of the security interests of other countries in Eastern Europe."

You May Like

Photogallery Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs