Russia and Global Security Risks
More Arms Control and Less Self-Deception: Valdai Club Discusses Prospects for NATO-Russia Relations
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy Boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On November 29, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion, titled “Relations Between Russia and NATO: A Grand Finale or To Be Continued?”

Ivan Timofeev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club and the moderator of the discussion, called the topic of relations between Russia and NATO extremely urgent and very multi-layered. He raised a whole range of problems for discussion — from the prospects for the resumption of the work of the Russian mission to NATO, to the future of arms control regimes and Euro-Atlantic security system trends.

Alexander Grushko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, in his speech analysed the evolution of NATO’s ideas about its own mission. He noted that after the end of the Cold War, the alliance lost its sense of mission. The solution was the “open door policy” — that is, in fact, the policy of searching for an enemy, which implied the rejection of promises not to move to the east, “not an inch”. Thus, NATO’s self-preservation interests were placed above the fundamental interests of creating common European security. As a result, the alliance returned to the post-Fulton era and again focused on combating the “threat from the east”. In addition, Grushko said that the degradation of arms control and globalisation of NATO’s ambitions following the declaration of outer space and cyberspace as its operational environments, were important factors influencing relations between Russia and NATO. In conclusion, the Deputy Minister outlined a number of concrete steps proposed by Moscow that would make it possible to improve the situation and return Russia and NATO to a positive agenda.

George Robertson, NATO Secretary General in 1999-2004, said that the growing tension in relations between NATO and Russia is extremely dangerous for everyone and is not beneficial to anyone. He called NATO a purely defensive alliance that does not have aggressive intentions in any direction, does not oppose Russia and does not undermine its security and territorial integrity. He insisted that the respective sides should abandon the exchange of accusations and move towards a dialogue to achieve common goals. As examples of common challenges facing Russia and the alliance, he mentioned climate change, global terrorism, cybercrime, the threat posed by collapsing states, pandemics and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Thomas Graham, Distinguished Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (USA), stressed that neither side wanted an armed conflict and that everyone understood what a catastrophe it can cause. He pointed to the existence of constantly increasing security risks at the moment, adding that the hope to avoid more serious consequences comes from the presence of a dialogue between the United States and Russia at the highest level and through de-conflicting channels. Speaking about the problem of “double deterrence”, he noted that the United States wants to conduct a constructive dialogue with both China and Russia, but at the same time sees China as a long-term and multidimensional strategic threat both in the field of security and in the economic sphere, especially with respect to advanced technology. To achieve “double deterrence”, Washington is turning to its allies in Europe and Asia, but there are obvious difficulties associated with this. America’s European allies see Russia as a threat, but they often do not share US concerns about China, while the Asian allies, on the contrary, are not interested in containing Russia and seek to cooperate with it. Balancing the interests of the US administration and its allies will not be easy.

Adam Thomson, former UK Permanent Representative to NATO (2014–2016) and Director of the European Leadership Network, admitted that Russia feels a certain threat from NATO, and that this feeling is sincere. He went on to emphasise that he considers it to be wrong and that the approach chosen by Russia would not help it achieve its goals, and, on the contrary, would prevent the forces within NATO that are inclined to dialogue and compromise, from working with Russia. According to him, NATO believes that it should be free to accept into its ranks any country that submits an application in order to strengthen its security, and Russia believes that this should not happen, which constitutes an irreconcilable contradiction. He added that the situation only contributes to escalation and, as a result, each side can easily make a dangerous mistake. We all need more arms control and less loud statements, the expert concluded.

Stefanie Babst, Principal & Global Policy Advisor at Brooch Associates and Senior Associate Fellow at the European Leadership Network, said that she was unpleasantly surprised that relations between Russia and NATO were at an impasse. Recalling the successes achieved in cooperation within the Russia-NATO Council, she noted that this cooperation had never been easy, but in the end it was usually possible to agree on some solutions, and now Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance have lost this ability. There should be a space for cooperation, and for this it is necessary that NATO countries take into account Russia’s legitimate security interests, she said, adding that the Russian leadership should also take a break and think about how it perceives its European neighbours. She stressed that Russia’s achievements give it the opportunity to look more calmly at the member states of the alliance. There is no need to turn up the heat in our relations, and then you will become more strategically influential, she said.

Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, pointed out that now both Russia and NATO are facing problems that were laid down a long time ago. The approach to European security, adopted thirty years ago, was, in his opinion, based on mutual self-deception. “We tried to pretend that NATO is something, on the basis of which a common security system can be built, while NATO was and remains a military-political alliance with a very specific set of tasks,” he said. According to Lukyanov, the entire security policy in Europe, starting with the unification of Germany, proceeded from the assumption that the bloc would become the base of a unified security system, and that Russia in some incomprehensible way would be incorporated into this system. Now this idea has been thrown away. “If we go back to the history of international relations, I don’t think that we will find even  one example of how a military-political bloc or alliance could freely spread in breadth without meeting the resistance of those countries that are not going to join it and will not join. The fact, that at some point we all believed that it could be otherwise, is an aberration of consciousness that must now leave us,” he added. According to Lukyanov, now it is necessary to start a serious conversation about the principles on which the European security system will be built in the future.