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NATO and Russia: towards a new Cold War.

Posted By August 14, 2019 No Comments

Crisis of the NATO-Russia Council and Founding Act 

(The Fifth of Five Articles) 

Maxim Starchak is currently a Fellow at Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. He has a PhD in Political Science, and an MA in International Relations from the Irkutsk State University in Russia. Please see a more complete biography at end of the article.

The documents that gave rise to the partnership between Russia and NATO – the Founding Act of 1997 and the Rome Declaration of 2002 – appear to many as outdated and do not correspond to reality as any examination of current relations will attest. These agreements were not able to generate or incubate a genuine partnership and to prevent conflict as these commentaries illustrate. 

The Founding Act proposed that none of the parties consider the other as an enemy. But the actual policy of Russia and NATO is the evidence to the contrary. Russia considers the expansion of the NATO alliance and its infrastructure as a threat to its national security. NATO takes steps to curb perceived Russian aggression. Both sides conduct military exercises, where the obvious conventional enemy is the opposite side.  

The Act says that between Russia and NATO must be a mutual transparency in creating and implementing the defense policy and military doctrines, but what kind of transparency in question if Russia increases the number of “sudden exercises,” violates the airspace of NATO countries, and thus provokes the risk of a direct military conflict. Conversely, how is Russia’s confidence built when NATO expands its membership right to Russia’s borders when Russia was promised that NATO would not expand,lxi consider Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

By signing the act, the parties agreed to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states and their right to choose their own ways to ensure security. But Russia has arguably violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and earlier Georgia and repeatedly states that it does not accept the eastward expansion of NATO.  

It can also mention that included in the agreement was a commitment by both NATO and Russia to move towards adapting the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. However, NATO countries have not ratified the treaty, and Russia imposed a moratorium on its implementation in 2007. In 2011, NATO terminated dialogue on this issue, and in March 2015 Russia completely stopped its membership in CFE. By this the parties, in fact, gave themselves permission to moving the troops on European soil without consulting other parties to the agreement.  

The parties had to observe the Vienna Document on confidence and security measures. But NATO was not satisfied by multiple unannounced exercises involving tens of thousands of troops, about which Moscow did not notify NATO (in accordance with the requirement specified in the document). Thanks to a clause in the Vienna Document, it is acceptable to conduct exercises of up to 9 thousand people without prior notification,lxii  but it is possible to conduct actual military operations under the guise of sudden exercises, which Russia did in Crimea. NATO was sorely aggrieved by Russia use of this clause to defend their occupation of the Crimea. The common purpose of NATO and Russia, according to the act, was overcoming the hangovers of the earlier confrontation and competition while strengthening the mutual trust and cooperation. This aspect appears to have completely failed. Russia does not trust the NATO plans on missile defense and considers that it had been deceived with promises not to expand eastward. As well as Russia does not trust NATO after the case in Ukraine due to the American instigation of the Maiden Revolution which deposed a legitimately elected (Canadian and other international observers said it was so) pro-Russian leader. By the end of 2014 NATO Secretary-General summed up the relationship from NATO’s perspective, saying that the relations between Russia and NATO of trust and confidence built over the past 20 years did not exist anymore.lxiii In April 2016 the press secretary of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov said the same.lxiv Moreover, due to the lack of agenda in January 2018, Alexander Grushko left his post as Russia’s permanent representative to NATO. And in April 2019, he said that Russia-NATO relations do not exist in any sphere and are not expected in the near future.lxv 

Hence the partnership based on Founding Act of 1997 no longer exists. The former Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski embraced the new political reality, stating that this non-legally binding political agreement was made in different international reality, was no longer operative and therefore the act is to be terminated.lxvi 

Instead of breaking the Act and dissolve NATO-Russia Council, building relations and creating new agreements based on the new reality, Russia and the alliance members stick to this document and convene the NATO-Russia Council from time to time. Unreality in relations persists  

As it was expected, the Council became a platform for the more claims rather than a place to solve problems. Russia used the meeting with representatives of the Alliance not to solve common problems and normalize relations, but to hold NATO liable for freezing the military interaction and advancing just another political claim. The Council acts just as a press office, where the parties inform each other of their actions that does not justify its existence in the view of many. 

The NATO-Russia Council did not prevent the ensuing conflict; it also did not keep the field for cooperation on some issues. However, despite nine meetings of the NATO-Russia Council since 2014, the problems are not solved and the parties are not going to change the format of their relations. Russia is ready for dialogue, but only if NATO takes into account Russia’s national interests in Europe,lxvii said Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko. NATO will resume former cooperation when Moscow “begins to act in accordance with international law,”lxviii said the head of the North Atlantic Alliance military committee, General Peter Pavel. There is no dialogue. However, Russia does not want to look like the initiator of the gap and take the responsibility for the outbreak of a new Cold War. It is no surprise that at the Munich security conference, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that we have moved back to the time of the new Cold War; but only because NATO behaved in an unfriendly manner with Russia.lxix  

NATO is also afraid to make the first important step towards the revision of the relationship and move away from the agreements of 1990s and early 2000s. The alliance does not want to take responsibility for the uncontrolled actions of Russia, which may follow after the revision of the relationship.lxx The Founding Act termination does not mean the total rupture of relations.  

In the opinion of the writer, as a long time observer and student of this situation, NATO and Russia should build a new mechanism of relations based on the rivalry and mutual threats, without undue expectations, understanding all the seriousness of disagreement. And to do that they do not have to create any pretty structures.  

Conclusions of the Writer 

Long-term and fundamental differences in the policies between Russia and NATO have  formed. Neither NATO nor Russia will give up its values, goals, and beliefs. Russia and NATO have to pursue the policy devoid of illusions, based on the actual state of affairs. To be sure, Russia’s nuclear rhetoric and modernization of its nuclear weapons constitute a menace, just as do the springing-up “Aegis Ashore” missile defense in Poland and Romania. To be sure, relocation of Russian troops within its own territory, as well as relocation of NATO’s troops within the national borders of the members would be taken with a grain of salt. Let’s face it, the “snap military exercises” of Russia, and the creation of weak forces of NATO in Eastern Europe, can make militaries nervous. It is true that, despite a legal possibility of such steps, they are only forming a sensation of the Cold War’s long and massive confrontation. 

The parties should conclude a new cooperation agreement as enemies. Recognizing the mutual threat to each other, two sides could make their relations more predictable, and save the world from a conflict with unpredictable outcomes. Parties will not wait the impossible things from each other and take for granted the existing differences of the policy, values, and interests. Then, steps aimed at the defense and security of each state will not be perceived as something catastrophic and unacceptable. The parties could stop waiting for the impossible partnership. 

At the moment, we are heading to the conflict of 1962. The parties do not rule out a long rivalry and confrontation and prepare steps, reinforcing the confrontation. Eastern European countries can obtain a permanent presence of the “essential” NATO forces on its territory. Sweden and Finland are increasingly working with NATO. Russia keeps concentrating the armament to the European part of the country. Now it is a militarization of conventional arms. But both sides have stated mutual accusations of a nuclear conflict threatening. Russia is not satisfied with the NATO non-nuclear countries participation in the Alliance nuclear military exercises. NATO is concerned about the modernization of the Strategic Nuclear Forces of Russia and the increase of nuclear exercises. One side builds the missile defense system in Eastern Europe, and the other the other side alters nuclear policy. U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty comes from the one side; suggestions of placing nuclear weapons in Crimea or on the territory of the allies in the Middle East or Latin America come from the other side. Russia and the United States are willing to engage in military confrontation with each other in Syria. In fact, the sides show all their strength and confrontational intentions that makes their policy similar to the policy of the Cold War times. But it is possible that the movement towards the conflict, which will be similar to the one happened in 1962, is the only chance to start full-scale negotiations between the parties on the future of international security.  


Maxim Starchak, in addition to his PhD in Political Science, and an MA in International Relations,  passed postgraduate courses in MGIMO (University) of the MFA of Russia, CTBTO Preparatory Commission in Vienna, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. In 2013-2015 he was a Research Fellow and Editor of the “Security Index” journal at PIR Center; also in 2013-2014 a Research Fellow at the Military Economy Department of the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy. During 2011-2014, he was an expert at the Eurasia Heritage Foundation. In 2011- 2013, he was a Research Fellow at Institute for US and Canadian Studies and Executive Director of the Center for Strategic Estimates and Forecasts, which founded an International Expert Council on cooperation in the Arctic. In 2011 he was Editor-in-Chief of the journal “Big game: politics, business, security in Central Asia”. In 2009-2013, Expert on the “Security Index in Central Asia” project, at the Institute of Political Solutions (Kazakhstan). In 2010-2012, Head of Analytical Directorate at the Foundation for advanced studies “Bastion’. In 2008-2010, a Council Member of the Siberian Centre for security and nuclear nonproliferation. In 2007-2010, Coordinator of the Russian Youth Association for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation. In 2006-2011, Vice President, Head of the Research Group on International Security and Conflicts at Russian Political Science Association. In 2006, he was also the co-founder of Youth Department at Russian Political Science Association.

In 2013-2014, he was author and editor of PIR Center White Paper “Towards nuclear disarmament: NTP article VI and Implementation of the 2010 Review Conference Decisions”. In 2014-2015, Executive Editor of the
Conference Proceedings of III & IV Moscow Conference on International Security of the Ministry of Defence of Russian Federation. In 2014-2015, Working Group Member from Russia for preparation of the BRICS Think Tanks Council report (section “international peace and security).

Since 2010 he has been a permanent member of the Expert Council of the annual all-Russian essay competition on NATO-Russian relations of the NATO Information Office in Moscow and Information Centre for International Security. He has received academic and public awards and grants from: MGIMO-University, Moscow State University, Institute of Oriental Studies, JSC “Rosatom”, Eurasian Development Bank, Russian Political Science Association, Federation for Peace and Conciliation, National Committee on BRICS Research, NATO Information Office and EU Delegation in Moscow.

Current Interests/Research:

·         Russian defence policy;

·         NATO-Russia relations; and

·         nuclear disarmament and arms control.