Taking its cue from European Union foreign ministers, Nato has agreed to limited reengagement with Russia. The decision represents a victory for those European states which favour a less belligerent approach to their eastern neighbour and a defeat for ‘new Cold War’ hawks in Washington. Germany and France have reiterated their determination that no shortcuts to Nato membership should be available to Georgia or Ukraine.
In the States, the meeting, which took place in Brussels between Nato foreign ministers, is being spun rather differently. By this interpretation, the US government, represented by Condoleeza Rice, has agreed to reengagement only on condition that work continues to prepare Georgia and Ukraine’s route to membership. The Germans and French now insist that the two aspirant members must fully complete the MAP process, reversing the position they assumed at the Bucharest conference earlier this year.
War in South Ossetia exemplified the danger associated with subsuming former Soviet states into Nato. With membership for Georgia in place Nato might have been committed to war with Russia following Saakashvili’s military adventurism. Meanwhile Ukraine refuses to pay Russian gas bills, threatening to steal gas and disrupt supplies to the European Union, and seeks dishonestly to exploit its position between Russia and the EU. These are the ‘democracies’ which the US (and Britain) considers suitable for immediate Nato membership!
The nations pushing for normalised relations between Nato and Russia, between the EU and Russia, are sane voices in a debate which has become needlessly febrile. When Russia looks west its sees ranged against it a series of Cold War era structures, unreformed and intent on expansion to its very borders. The sooner the European and American governments begin to understand and acknowledge Russia’s apprehensions in this regard, the sooner a genuine partnership, based on mutual respect and common interests, can be built.