NATO challenges Russia’s influence in the CIS

Agency WPS
June 9, 2004, Wednesday


SOURCE: Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 8, 2004, p. 5

by Yuri Simonjan, Tatiana Ivzhenko

In Warsaw and Brussels yesterday, NATO structures held important
talks with representatives of the defense ministries of Ukraine and
Georgia. These two countries are expected to receive invitations
to the NATO Istanbul summit by the end of this month, and they will
attend the summit with the status of NATO’s special partners. NATO
has been making active advances to the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan
since late May. It is reasonable to assume that NATO is interested in
consolidating some key GUUAM members around the idea of integration
into Western structures.

As Russia becomes more active in establishing and consolidating
economic blocs in the CIS, NATO’s operations in this area are
growing more intensive as well. The West must fear that Moscow’s
initiatives and efforts might lead to the rise of a new and fairly
powerful international alliance, with relations between its members
not restricted to economic contacts alone. This could even deprive the
West of its ability to influence key areas of post-Soviet territory.
That is why NATO countries, those which criticized their CIS partners
only recently, are now changing their tune and promoting closer
relations with the CIS. Off the record, some NATO representatives
speak of the possibility of granting Ukraine and Georgia permission
to join NATO as soon as 2007 – even though it’s obvious that neither
country is ready for it in economic, political, or military terms.

Douglas Bereteur, president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly,
spoke of NATO membership prospects for Ukraine during a recent visit
to Kiev. But NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a
correspondent of Day that although NATO’s doors are open to Ukraine,
it’s too early as yet to talk of any exact dates. Commenting on
speculations by some Ukrainian analysts about the negative impact
of Russia on NATO-Ukraine relations, Scheffer said: “Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov said recently that any decision Ukraine makes
will be its own sovereign decision. I don’t think Ukraine’s intentions
can have any effect on relations between NATO and Russia.”

Judging by certain statements of NATO officials, the Alliance is more
concerned about Ukraine’s present undemocratic system and problems with
its military reforms. But despite all its misgivings, NATO has signed
a mutual understanding memorandum with Kiev. Under this agreement, NATO
will use Ukrainian AN-124 Ruslan transport planes in its operations.

Expanding Ukraine’s participation in joint operations with NATO
was also discussed at a conference organized by NATO and the Polish
Institute of Foreign Affairs. Ukrainian analysts, however, attach
considerably more importance to NATO’s consent to arrange a meeting of
the NATO-Ukraine commission in Istanbul on June 28 and 29. A previous
meeting of this commission was to take place in Prague in autumn 2002,
but it was cancelled because of the scandal over alleged unlawful
deliveries of Kolchuga Chain Mail systems to Iraq. NATO didn’t even
invite President Leonid Kuchma to the meeting last year. Ukraine was
represented by its foreign minister there.

These days, NATO considers it necessary to reestablish relations with
the Ukrainian leader, who keeps saying that Ukraine is not going to
knock at the doors of Western structures if those doors are closed to
it – instead, it will turn to more loyal foreign partners. Ukrainian
Foreign Minister Konstantin Grischenko said the other day that Kiev
has not yet made up its mind concerning the format of participation
in the Ukraine-NATO meeting in Istanbul. This might mean that NATO
will find it necessary to exert more effort (and perhaps even made
some concessions) to change the pro-Russian direction of Ukrainian
foreign policy.

In its relations with pro-Western Georgia, NATO doesn’t have the sort
of problems it has with Ukraine. A team of experts from the Defense
Ministry of Georgia has been in Brussels since June 1, working with
their NATO counterparts on a draft development program for the Georgain
miliary. This plan may be signed today. Tbilisi is represented at
the talks by Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili. Bezhuashvili is
currently in Brussels, but his time has run out. Fulfilling the plans
will probably be the prerogative of Georgy Baramidze, Bezhuashvili’s
successor, who will soon be endorsed by the parliament of Georgia.

Bezhuashvili told journalists that he was going to Brussels with a
detailed plan specifying all Georgia’s commitments to NATO, the dates
of their implementation, and a program for developing and restructuring
the Armed Forces. The Georgian military’s troop strength will be cut
from 14,000 to 10,000, and a transition to contract service will
be made eventually. In line with NATO standards, 85% of employees
at the central staff of the Defense Ministry will be civilians. The
functions of the Defense Ministry and General Staff will be divided.

All the same, Georgia will have to solve a lot of problems if it’s
really aiming for full membership of NATO. Withdrawal of Russian
military bases from its territory appears to be the most difficult
of these. Moscow still insists on 11 years it claims to require for
the withdrawal, but Tbilisi insistes that three years will suffice.
Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nato Chikovani told us: “Russia
hasn’t even appointed a head of the expert team, despite our requests.”

Georgian experts hope that some way of dealing with the problem will
be found during the talks in Brussels, even though Scheffer never
misses a chance to emphasize that NATO has no intention of spoiling
its relations with Russia. “I take care of these relations and value
them,” he said the other day.

Azerbaijan is also active on its path to NATO. Azerbaijani officers
have attended the NATO Peacekeeping Operations courses. The exercise
took place in Oberammergau, a town in Georgia, within the framework
of NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program. The Best Effort exercise
will be organized in Azerbaijan this summer under NATO’s aegis.
Still, Azerbaijan is several steps behind Ukraine and Georgia on
its path to NATO, and membership is out of the question for the
time being. Judging by the West’s efforts, however, the situation
may change soon. A special agreement on closer contacts between NATO
and the government of Azerbaijan will be signed during the Istanbul
summit. Observers in Azerbaijan are apprehensive that this may have
a negative impact on Azerbaijan’s relations with Moscow. They point
out that the declaration signed by the governments of Russia and
Azerbaijan during President Ilham Aliyev’s recent visit to Moscow
states that cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan must not
be directed against any other country. If things sour, however,
official Baku could use its most convincing argument in the dialogue
with Moscow. Azerbaijan itself is annoyed by the presence of Russian
military bases in Armenia, just like Moscow may be frustrated by the
activization of Baku’s relations with NATO.