On July 5 the NATO-Russia Council met for the second time this year and, according to Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the discussions were “not easy”. The first agenda item was the security situation in the Donbas, specifically the lack of progress on the Minsk Agreements and the tensions in and around the Sea of Azov. NATO called for the release of the Ukrainian sailors and ships that Russia seized in November 2018. There was apparently no agreement on any of the Ukraine-related issues.
The INF treaty and what might come after its expiration was the other main topic for discussion. Both the United States and Russia have announced their intention to withdraw from the treaty on August 2nd. The NATO allies urged Russia to return to full and verifiable compliance with the treaty. Although all the participants expressed their support for arms control, it is highly unlikely that the INF treaty will be saved.
When asked by reporters about NATO’s response after the INF treaty’s expiration, Stoltenberg said NATO would respond “in a united way, coordinated, defensive”, stressing that there is no intention to deploy nuclear missiles in Europe. He did not go into anything more specific but indicated that NATO’s response will depend on Russia’s actions after the treaty’s expiration. If Russia deploys missiles that can reach European cities within minutes, then that will necessitate a concerted NATO response. At the stage, however, it is difficult to predict what will happen after August 2nd.
The NATO-Russia Council meeting also included both sides briefing each other on their respective military exercises. In NATO’s case these were Dynamic Mariner and Trident Juncture. In Russia’s case they were Tsentr and Union Shield.Since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis in 2104, the NATO-Russia relationship has come under additional strain, given the disagreements over the situation in Crimea, the Donbas and beyond. The end of the INF treaty and questions of violations of the treaty have added to NATO-Russia tensions. For some time, there have been voices on both sides questioning the continued utility of the NATO-Russia Council, which has existed for 17 years and produced modest results. So far, the key officials involved in this process agree that it is better to have dialogue than to cut it off completely. But, as was clear from this latest meeting, the areas of agreement are quite limited.