NATO Secretary General fails to convince Moscow

The official visit of Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to Moscow failed to impress the Russian leadership, many experts believe. One reason for their scepticism is that, after their meeting, President Vladimir Putin and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer did not meet Kremlin-accredited reporters to answer their questions, which is unusual.

Evidently, they had no optimistic statements to make, their colleagues decided, and they were probably not far off the mark.

Unfortunately, despite Brussels' upbeat statements, Russia-Nato relations have not improved for obvious reasons. Moscow has unresolved issues with the Baltic countries, which have joined Nato together with four other countries. Russia has not settled disputes over the borders and the discrimination of the Russian-speaking population in Latvia and Estonia. However, Nato and the EU are all but turning a blind eye to this situation.

Another serious problem is the fact that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have not yet signed the CFE Treaty. Of course, the Nato secretary general earlier handed an official letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, saying that the new Nato members would strictly comply with all the agreements that Russia and Nato have signed, including the Fundamental Act, the Rome Declaration and the Madrid Protocol. They will also sign up to the CFE Treaty as soon as it comes into force. However, there are no legal guarantees of this pledge. Nato's guest in Moscow said nothing new about the issue and this is why his visit to Moscow can be considered a failure.

Russian experts know Nato's "diplomatic ploys" only too well. For example, the Russia-Nato Fundamental Act does not allow the deployment of Nato military bases on new members' territory or upgrading their military infrastructure for these purposes in the future. However, the United States, a leading Nato country, has officially announced its intention to move its military bases from Germany to Poland. The question is how these intentions fit into the Paris obligations? However, Brussels seems to be surprised by this question. It is not our decision, we cannot be responsible for bilateral agreements between our partners, officials say in the Belgian capital. Possibly, Russia will receive similar answers in the future when American or British military bases suddenly appear in the Baltic countries. This time too, the Nato chief urged Moscow not to be concerned over the radar stations deployed in the Baltics to control Russian territory and over the US AWACS E-3 aircraft flying above Russia's borders. According to Nato, Russia should not worry about the deployment of four Belgian F-16s near Shaulyai and their patrols over the Kaliningrad region.

Russian generals have posed a question: If the appearance of aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons at our borders is not a threat, then what should be considered a threat? There is no answer.

All these and other real facts predetermined the negative and tense background of Russia's relations with Nato and the atmosphere of the Nato chief's visit to Moscow. Unfortunately, despite his diplomatic experience and outstanding eloquence, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer failed to allay Russia's concerns at his meeting with President Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov. Nor did he convince Moscow that the new Nato members would soon sign the CFE Treaty. This will all be settled soon, and the new members will not take any actions before joining the CFE Treaty, he told his Russian partners. However, words are not enough. The sides' positions remained unchanged after the negotiations. Russia had to emphasise its reserved and negative attitude to the latest developments within the alliance.

"Reality has confirmed that mechanical expansion does not make it easier to counter threats we face," said Mr Putin "This move was unable to prevent the Madrid terrorist attacks or help solve the problems in Afghanistan."

Moscow did not promise the Nato chief that it would sign an agreement on the transit of military cargoes to Afghanistan via Russia. Russia has already signed such an agreement with Germany on a bilateral basis, and is ready to sign similar documents with France and possibly with other Nato countries, but not with the bloc as a whole.

Besides, the Nato chief invited President Putin to Nato's June summit in Istanbul to celebrate the Alliance's expansion. All the Nato allies would appreciate it if the Russian president agreed to attend this event, the Nato secretary general said.

However, the Russian president gave an evasive answer. On the whole, observers say that Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's visit to Moscow was not very well prepared in Brussels or perhaps other Nato capitals. It was naive to expect that he would be met with open arms in Russia; the Kremlin still remembers who had had a hand in the failure of Dmitry Kozak's promising plan for the Transdniestrian settlement. It is hard to work with people who take the interests of one party alone into account.

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