- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Not confrontation but cooperation that must be the logic of relations between Russia and NATO. Both sides have a stake in a constant, constructive dialogue. Moscow needs it because today NATO is the most powerful military-political organization of the Western world, a reality that cannot be ignored. At the same time, the North Atlantic alliance also has to engage in a negotiating process with Russia because, evading it, NATO turns into a force which causes fears even among some members of this organization.

The main avenues of cooperation are already clear now. One of them is first of all settlement of the Kosovo conflict. At the present time the situation in Kosovo is rousing well-warranted concern in Moscow, since the ousting of the Serbs from the province continues, and since Kosovo has been actually taken out of Yugoslavia's jurisdiction. But if U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, which formalizes the Former Republic of Yugoslavia's territorial integrity, is implemented in Kosovo, cooperation of Russia and NATO will doubtless prove to be fruitful and will allow the situation to be put under control and to stop the negative processes.

Nuclear disarmament is a broad field of cooperation. Russia recently made an important step on this road the State Duma ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II). Now much depends on the political will of NATO leaders, primarily those in Washington.

Regrettably, much of what the United States does is now determined not by long-term but by time-serving interests dictated by the internal political situation by the nearing presidential elections. Hence the task of removing the questions of strategic security from under the influence of the American election campaign. This concerns first of all the talks on the Russian-U.S. Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense (ABM) Treaty of 1972. The U.S. intention to build a national ABM system which is prohibited by the treaty jeopardizes Washington's allies in NATO because the national ABM system will protect only the American continent, leaving the European partners of the United States unprotected. For the first time in NATO's history, a situation wherein different members of the alliance will have different guarantees of security will emerge, and this cannot but worry Great Britain, Germany, France and other allies of the United States.

As for the problem of extension of NATO and of its enlargement eastwards, which for Russia is very painful, it seems that after the admission of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to the alliance the leadership of the North Atlantic bloc decided to make a pause, though officially nothing has been said about this. If the pause were really made or even prolonged, this would certainly help strengthen confidence between Moscow and Brussels and make for better understanding.

The developments in Chechnya a North Caucasian republic where Moscow has been carrying out an anti-terroristic operation have also aggravated relations between Russia and NATO to a certain extent. The leaders of a number of countries participating in the alliance have strongly criticized Moscow's actions, forgetting that the Chechen conflict is an internal affair of Russia, and it is entitled to resolve the problem in the way it deems it proper. At the same time, Moscow agrees that Chechnya is also a field for international cooperation. The Russian leadership does not object to an international system of observation of the developments in the North Caucasus, but it will not allow anybody to call into question the territorial integrity of Russia, nor the inviolability of its borders.

Russia stands for equal and constructive partnership with NATO. This is quite possible to achieve. Now it is safe to say that the contacts between Moscow and the North Atlantic bloc, discontinued because of the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia, are being re-established. The visit of NATO Secretary General George Robertson to Moscow in February 2000 was the first step on the road of these relations getting warmer. His talks with the current president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and ministers of defense and foreign affairs, Igor Sergeyev and Igor Ivanov respectively, were successful enough and meant, in essence, normalization of relations.

To be sure, not only politicians but also generals should meet. A step has already been made in this direction, and new moves have been made on this ground including participation by the chief of the general staff of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Anatoly Kvashnin, in a meeting of the Russia-NATO Joint Permanent Military Committee, and his talks devoted to discussing military doctrines and to prospects for military cooperation. These talks are extremely important for establishing genuine relations of confidence.

All this proves that Moscow is open for a dialogue with NATO. As it was stated in Mr. Putin's interview with well-known British analyst David Frost, the Kremlin does not rule out even a possibility of Russia's entry into NATO "if its interests are taken into consideration, if it is an equal partner." But, in my view, this is a purely academic prospect for the time being. There are no practical conditions for its translation into reality yet. Mr. Putin certainly did not mean the present day or the immediate future. He simply implied that Russia and NATO can reach an agreement on conditions of full respect for their mutual interests. And for this purpose it is necessary that the negotiating process does not stop.

Vladimir Lukin is vice chairman of the Russian State Duma and former Russian ambassador to the United States.

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