NATO and Russia: Will They Reach a ‘Gentlemen's Agreement’?

On Wednesday, April 20, NATO-Russia Council held its first session after almost two years’ break with the issues of Ukraine, Afghanistan, and security of military activities in East Europe high on the agenda.

Valdai Club expert Hans-Joachim Spanger, Head of Research Group and member of the Executive Board of the Frankfurt-based Peace Research Institute, commented on the meeting for

All activities of the NATO-Russia Council were frozen in 2014 following the reunification of Crimea with Russia and the beginning of hostilities in the east of Ukraine. According to Spanger, NATO and Russia have come to realise that they need a forum for exchange on military and security issues.

There are three fundamental reasons for that, Spanger said. “One reason is the growing number of dangerous encounters between Russian and NATO warplanes, because Russia has increased the frequency of flights near NATO borders. So they needed a kind of a gentlemen’s agreement on how to handle these issues.

Second, this is the question of stationing of ‘significant military forces’ as it was called in the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997. If you scrap it – and it is not scrapped on the insistence of Germans, in particular - you can easily enter a new arms race. And I have a feeling that nobody – neither on the part of NATO nor Russia, maybe at the exception of some bordering countries like the Baltic states or Poland, is interested in a new arms race.

The third reason is that NATO has to address the concerns of countries like the Baltic states, which feel insecure after Crimea. There are two ways to do that. One is rearmament, stationing of forces, which does not make any sense, because that would lead to a new arms race. That is highly expensive and everybody would be less secure after that. But these concerns can also be addressed by confidence-building measures and arms control. So we need a forum to exchange views on these issues on a regular basis,” Spanger said.

When asked about NATO’s expectations regarding Russia, Spanger said that Ukraine remained the bloc’s primary concern, but was sceptical about reaching an agreement. “Nobody seriously perceives the demand ‘Give Crimea back to Ukraine’. The other issue is Donbass, and this is a question where we can achieve something on the basis of Minsk, or not to achieve anything. I am relatively pessimistic and it is primarily because of Ukraine and the ability of its authorities to offer something serious. As long as we do not have a kind of a gentlemen’s agreement between the two parties – and, certainly, Ukraine – on how to cope with the Ukrainian issue, I do not see much prospect,” he pointed out.

“I think there is enough to address during the next one to two years in order to re-establish a measure of exchange of views, of communication and eventually cooperation,” the German scholar stressed. “Maybe some other issues will be on the agenda: anti-terrorism is something which could open up new possibilities right away on the cooperative basis. NATO’s stabilization mission in Afghanistan, although given less prominence now that it was used to, is a potential field of cooperation – of course, if it takes place,” Spanger concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.