NATO and Russia
After the Cold War, NATO created various forms of cooperation with Russia, but mutual mistrust stood in the way of a real rapprochement between the parties. NATO’s enlargement to the east, the war in Georgia in 2008, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and continued provocations on the Baltic Sea have made relations between Russia and NATO worse than ever.
Cooperation with Russia was a high priority for NATO countries after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe after 1989, but for various reasons it was not very successful. One reason was Russian distrust of NATO’s intentions. NATO enlargement, which included the former Warsaw Pact countries and former Soviet republics such as the Baltic States, was seen – and seen – in Moscow as a threat to Russian security interests.
Russia formally joined the Partnership for Peace (PFF) in 1994, ie the NATO-created cooperation body for non-member countries of the European Security and Cooperation Organization (OSCE). However, it was not until 2007 that the Russian parliament had ratified the agreement, which illustrated Russia’s doubts about NATO).
Following tough negotiations, a special co-operation agreement (NATO-Russian Founding Act) was also signed between Russia and NATO in May 1997. In the agreement, NATO stated, among other things, that the alliance – in the current circumstances – did not intend to deploy nuclear weapons or troops in new member states The so-called NATO-Russia Council was established in 2002. The agreement on which the Council was based mentioned, among other things, disarmament issues, counter-terrorism, the fight against drug trafficking and system adaptation and joint exercises as areas for cooperation.
In 2007, relations between the United States and Russia deteriorated sharply in connection with the United States’ plans to deploy a missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. The aim of the project was to protect Europe from attacks by Iran and by international terrorists, but the deployment would at the same time upset the military balance of power between NATO countries and Russia. Moscow protested vigorously and threatened countermeasures.
Other wooden topics were the issue of Kosovo’s independence, which Russia opposed, and NATO’s further enlargement plans.
The gap widens
Relations deteriorated further during the Georgia War of 2008, when Russia sent troops to support the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These events took place against the background that Georgia was about to try to join NATO. NATO countries and much of the world strongly condemned Russia’s actions, even though Georgia was blamed for the outbreak of war itself. Russia argued that the two republics had the same right to independence as the West claimed for Kosovo.
In 2009, relations with Russia improved on the initiative of the then newly elected President of the United States, Barack Obama (the so-called reset policy). New disarmament negotiations led to an agreement that reduced the number of nuclear weapons by half. Within the NATO-Russia Council, several initiatives were taken for co-operation on, among other things, the fight against terrorism, as well as agreements on NATO transports via Russia to the troops in Afghanistan.
But a new wedge was broken in the relationship in connection with the Libyan operation when a NATO-led force intervened to protect the civilian population during the then uprising against the country’s government (see Peacekeeping operations). Russia refrained from vetoing the operation in the UN Security Council, but afterwards Russia has criticized the effort for being too offensive and exceeded the UN mandate.
Back to box one
Russia’s intervention in Georgia in the summer of 2008 gave rise to a discussion in the Baltics as to whether NATO troops should be stationed permanently in the Baltic countries in order to meet a possible Russian threat. The issue gained renewed relevance in the spring of 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea in violation of international law (see UKRAINE: Current Politics and Calendar) and war broke out in Ukraine between the government in Kiev and pro-Russian separatists – supported by Russian troops – in the eastern part of the country.
Russia’s obvious strategy to destabilize eastern Ukraine through its support for the pro – Russian rebels has raised concerns about Russian aggression among NATO members in Eastern and Central Europe. Poland and Lithuania in particular requested immediate assistance. The United States promised support to members of the alliance but pointed out that no military aid could be sent to Ukraine, as the country is outside NATO and thus not covered by collective defense under Article 5 of the NATO Charter.
Tensions between Russia and the West meant for NATO that the focus shifted from international efforts to collective defense. Article 5 of the NATO Treaty came to the fore again for the Alliance’s cooperation.
In 2014, NATO suspended all cooperation with Russia and increased its presence in the Baltic Sea, in the Baltic States and in Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. In the same year, the member states decided to strengthen the joint task force and set up a spearhead force that could be deployed within 48 hours (see Structure). At the 2016 summit, it was time for the next step: to place multinational battalion battle groups of about 1,000 men each in place in the three Baltic states and in Poland. At the next summit in 2018, it was decided to establish two new commands in order to be able to quickly move troops across Europe and keep the sea routes between the USA and Europe open (see Structure). In the same year, NATO also launched a new concept: 30-30-30 as in 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 ships that can be deployed as reinforcements against Russian aggression within 30 days. The initiative is called the NATO Readiness Initiative and will be implemented in 2020 (see Structure).
In parallel with the construction of new structures, NATO has greatly increased its military training activities in Europe. During 2014–2015, major exercises were carried out in the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean area, among other places, with the aim of practicing collective defense. In 2018, 50,000 men from all member countries as well as from Sweden and Finland participated in the largest exercise since the end of the Cold War (see Sweden and NATO). It was relatively clear that the exercises mainly involved preparations to meet a potential Russian attack on a slightly smaller NATO country.
Several Russian provocations have taken place in the Baltic Sea region since 2008. Perhaps the most famous is when Russian bombers simulated attacks on Stockholm on Easter 2013 (see Sweden and NATO on extrareference). Attack exercises against Öland and Bornholm, among others, have taken place, as well as repeated violations of the Finnish border. Several NATO countries have been subjected to influence operations and cyber attacks from the east, and Russian support for populist movements has proved to be an effective method of shaking up the Alliance’s democracies.
The new-old relationship with Moscow has resulted in demands from member states that the strategic concept from 2010, in which Russia is mentioned as an important partner to NATO, be replaced.