From Republic.ru, Oct. 25, 2021, https://republic.ru/posts/102084. Complete text:
Experience teaches us that in diplomacy – unlike, for example, the art of war – causes and effects are widely separated in time. Weeks, months, sometimes even years pass before it turns out that this or that foreign policy decision was sheer stupidity and resulted in a serious loss for the country. However, recent events in relations between Russia and the NATO refute this rule. It took less than a week to assess the reasonableness of one decision.
On Oct. 18, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the shock that was given by the insidious NATO, which demanded that the Russian mission at the alliance’s headquarters be halved – from 20 to 10 people [see Vol 74, No. 43, pp. 6‑8]. All right, then, offended Moscow said, we will completely close our mission to NATO. And, of course, the military and information mission of the alliance in Russia. Their activities are to be terminated by Nov. 1. The logic, as the progovernment experts explained, is simple: After NATO, for no apparent reason (that is, because of the sheer nonsense of the annexation of the Crimea and the unleashing of a “secret” war in the Donetsk Basin), reduced communication with Moscow to a minimum, the need for liaison missions has disappeared. You might say it couldn’t get any worse.
We haven’t hit bottom yet.
Further events have shown how it will go. Just a few days after this démarche, the defense ministers of the NATO countries adopted a document that directly affects the interests of Russia. Reuters reported that NATO has developed a “Concept for Deterrence and Defence in the Euro-Atlantic Area,” which includes a plan to defend against a possible Russian attack. According to [Reuters], the countries of the alliance will prepare for Russian aggression in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, during which nuclear strikes, hacking of computer networks and an attack from space might take place. That is, we are talking about a specific plan of military operations against Russia. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reaffirmed the existence of “a [new] overarching plan to defend [NATO]***to make sure that we [continue to] have the right forces at the right place at the right time.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer added fuel to the fire. Asked whether NATO is considering scenarios of containing Russia in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, including in nuclear-armed airspace, she said NATO needs to make it clear to Russia that the alliance is ready to use even such means. At this point, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu decided not to hold back. “Amid calls for the military containment of Russia, NATO is steadily amassing forces near our borders. The German defense minister should know very well how this ended for Germany and Europe in the past. Security in Europe can only be mutual, without infringing on Russia’s interests. But today it is NATO that is not ready for equal dialogue on this issue,” Shoigu said.
Everything indicates that Russia has become the main adversary of NATO, to the point of concrete military planning. The fact that China might turn into such an adversary is still being said only rhetorically. In the Russian case, we are talking about detailed plans. That is, NATO headquarters is calculating what forces Russia could use to strike in the Black Sea region and the Baltic, including nuclear weapons, and is planning what forces (again, including nuclear ones) it could use to repel such aggression. This is what the troops are already preparing for. The exercise Steadfast Noon has just passed, the purpose of which is declared to be a “deterrence exercise,” that is, for the use of nuclear weapons. Two American B‑1B strategic bombers have just flown over the Black Sea region and, as the media reported, a dozen Russian air defense systems were put on alert. Russia relatively recently carried out the Zapad [West] 2021 maneuvers, in which, it was alleged, more than 200,000 military personnel were involved. As doubtful as this figure is, we are talking about practicing large-scale military operations. In these conditions, the direct threat of incidents that threaten to escalate into a direct military clash increases significantly.
And it is at this moment that the liaison missions with NATO are closed. Now, in urgent cases, NATO members will have to reach out, as suggested by Russia, through our embassy in Belgium. Everyone relies on direct contacts between the top military leaders, in this case the chief of the Russian General Staff and the commander of NATO forces in Europe. It remains to be hoped that, in a moment of crisis, the generals will be in place and the lines of communication will not fail. Alas, there will be no backup communication channels now.
We wanted better.
The entire history of relations between Russia and NATO confirms the cynical postulate that treaties are observed when they are not needed, but they cease to be observed exactly when the need arises. This relationship began with an obvious misunderstanding. In the first direct appeal to the alliance, which happened just a week and a half after the signing of the Belovezhskaya [Pushcha] Accords, Boris Yeltsin wrote, “Today we are raising the question of Russia’s joining NATO, but we are ready to view this as a long-term political goal.” The phrase was put such that NATO members, completely unprepared to accept Russia into their ranks, wondered whether the new master of the Kremlin wanted to join the alliance, or if the particle “not” had been lost at the last moment.
Throughout the 1990s, relations were a roller coaster of sharp ups and just as sharp downs. Russian troops participated along with NATO troops in two peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. During the operation in Bosnia, a brigade of Russian airborne forces was part of a multinational division, and our generals worked at the main NATO headquarters in Mons [Belgium], trying to combine the field manuals and regulations of the Russian and NATO troops. However, during the other operation, in Kosovo, Russian and NATO soldiers were on the verge of a clash. When a company of Russian paratroopers occupied an airport near Pristina in the summer of 1999, the then NATO commander in Europe, US Gen. Wesley Clark, ordered a strike on them. The situation was saved by British Gen. Mike Jackson, who announced that he was not going to start the third world war.
The liaison missions, created in accordance with the NATO-Russia Founding Act signed in 1997, were supposed to prevent misunderstandings that would threaten a world war. Only once, when NATO began bombing Yugoslavia, were their activities suspended. In the early 2000s, after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, Russia expressed its readiness to provide the US and NATO with all necessary support. It was then that the NATO-Russia Council was established, and at the top they even started talking about an antiterrorist alliance between Moscow and Brussels. The Strategic Concept of NATO adopted in 2010 has not yet been canceled (a new one is now being urgently developed), which set as one of its main goals the establishment of strategic partnership relations with Moscow.
Now it is ridiculous to recall how, in the honeymoon period of relations with Russia, some hotheads in Brussels even talked about abandoning the task of defending the alliance’s territory – there was no enemy who could commit aggression. It was then that the American heavy (tank and mechanized) divisions were withdrawn from the Old World. It was then that the European countries received their peace dividends by reducing defense spending as low as 1% to 1.5% of gross domestic product.
A new cold war.
However, as time went on, the so-called values gap became more apparent. The fact is that NATO itself, with its veto right possessed by Lithuania and the Czech Republic, embodies a consistent denial of everything that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin sincerely believes. His ideas about the world are reduced to Realpolitik in its most primitive interpretation: The rulers of the world sit at some “Yalta table” and decide the fate of small dependent states. In his picture of the world, any state that joins NATO renounces its sovereignty and agrees to obey the US. And the fact that the former Warsaw Pact states rushed to join NATO is seen as proof that Washington has achieved a decisive “geopolitical” advantage over Moscow by bringing to bear its economic and military superiority.
It was the feeling that the insidious NATO was trying to deprive the Kremlin of a place at the nonexistent “Yalta table” by using Kiev’s maidan [the 2014 overthrow of the Ukrainian government – Trans.], which then became the source of the Ukrainian crisis and grew into the annexation of the Crimea and hostilities in the Donetsk Basin. 2014 was the watershed year from which NATO began to contain Russia. Recently, these aggressive preparations were adequately described by Sergei Shoigu: “An armored brigade of the US Ground Forces and four multinational battalion tactical groups have been deployed to Poland and the Baltic states. Headquarters of the [NATO] coalition divisions have been formed in Romania, Poland and Latvia.” True, the same Sergei Shoigu reported that in response to the deployment of four battalion tactical groups and the deployment of of the American armored brigade units on a rotational basis, 20 formations and units would be created in [Russia’s] western sector in 2021 alone. Since 2014, the deployment of four dozen formations has been reported, including the recreation of a tank army. This spring, the Russian minister announced something theoretically impossible: the secret redeployment of two combined-arms armies and three Airborne Assault Forces units to the western borders!
Medium-range missiles are a different topic. Speaking to the experts of the Valdai [International Discussion] Club, Vladimir Putin said that he did not rule out the appearance of such missiles somewhere near Kharkov. And he was outraged that NATO ignored Moscow’s call to introduce a mutual moratorium on the deployment of such missiles. True, the Russian leader did not mention that Russia does not believe that the 9M729 missiles, which served as a pretext for the US withdrawal from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate- and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF), violate this treaty. It is not entirely clear whether they fall under the Moscow-proposed moratorium. At least Putin suggested checking only Kaliningrad Province for the absence of such missiles.
Be that as it may, it is clear that Russia and the NATO countries have entered a new cold war. Today they are obviously happy to deal with the remnants of the era of cooperation. This also applies to the terminated operations of the representative offices in Brussels and Moscow. Alas, no one has tried to adapt these missions to today’s needs. Meanwhile, the situation, which is worsening not only by the day but by the hour, demands that we recall the positive experience of the first cold [war]L namely, the policy of peaceful coexistence. It was not just a slogan. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was implemented through numerous agreements. Both sides were aware of the red lines that must not be crossed under any circumstances.
Therefore, today (more precisely, yesterday) there is an urgent need to develop new military confidence-building measures. For example, it is imperative to determine exactly how many troops are considered “significant forces,” which NATO has pledged not to deploy on the territory of new member [states]. It is also necessary to improve the Vienna Document [2011 on Confidence and Security-Building Measures], the last surviving agreement that regulates military activity on the continent in any way. During the first cold war, decades of arms limitation and reduction negotiations served as liaison missions. I would like to believe that the parties will be able to start such negotiations this time too. And their participants will gain mutual trust in order to have the ability to stop the dangerous development of some incident. If they can in time, of course.