NATO-Russia Relations in 2017: Hostage of a Post-Truth World?

2018-06-15T07:24:22+00:00
January 20, 2017
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Editor’s Note: Dominik P. Jankowski is head of OSCE and Eastern Security Unit at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was Marshall Memorial Fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in 2012.

Post-truth became a fundamental element in shaping international relations in 2016. There is no doubt that Russia actively helped to spread the “post-truth malicious worm” in order to put the world out of kilter. It has targeted multiple institutions, organizations and countries. Yet, an extraordinary effort was made to undermine the coherence, unity, and indivisibility of NATO. The Alliance was accused of its congenital inability to adapt to an emerging new world order. In fact, the Russian actions were aimed at keeping NATO-Russia relations as a hostage of a post-truth world. Unexpectedly, at the beginning of 2017 the Russian Foreign Ministry spoke out in favor of a reset with NATO. Is this just another post-truth ruse?

Six months ago, despite the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine and bombing of Syria, at the Summit in Warsaw NATO decided to put on the table a genuine offer of a dialogue with Russia. NATO’s approach to dialogue has been based on four principles: periodic, focused, meaningful, and reciprocal. The goals were clear: to discuss the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, avoid misunderstanding, miscalculation, and unintended escalation as well as to increase transparency and predictability. Most importantly, as stated in the Warsaw Summit Communiqué, this dialogue was aimed at “a Russia willing to engage.”

A NATO-Russia Council (NRC) convened on July 13, 2016, just four days after the Summit. NATO presented a special briefing on the outcomes of the Summit which until now has not been reciprocated by Russia. At the same time, Allies continued to suggest concrete options to improve predictability and transparency in the Euro-Atlantic area by making numerous proposals to modernize the Vienna Document, which outlines confidence building measure for OSCE countries.

After six months, it is clear that Russia has chosen a path of confrontation. The NRC meeting on December 19, 2016, proved that the West still awaits “a Russia willing to engage.” The recently published Russian Foreign Policy Concept shows how Moscow’s priorities have pivoted from economy to security and defence. In the Concept from 2013, the economic crisis as well as regional economic integration processes were the point of reference for Russian foreign policy. In 2016, the Concept concentrated on regional and global security challenges and threats, including those of a military nature. The following Russian actions in the last six months demonstrate that Moscow continues to treaten the West like a rival in a zero-sum game:

  • Interference in domestic affairs of the Western states, which combined cyberattacks with information and intelligence operations. In fact, in an unprecedented way Russia intentionally subverted the American election process, as has been ultimately confirmed by the FBI, the CIA, and the Director of National Intelligence;

  • Destabilization of eastern Ukraine continues, including through ongoing direct involvement in the conflict as well as providing military, organizational and financial support to the militants. Russia has not complied with the Minsk Agreements, nor has it shown willingness to de-escalate the tense military situation on the ground. To the contrary, in November 2016 the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine recorded the highest number of explosions caused by mortars, tanks, artillery, and rocket systems since the beginning of the conflict;

  • Heightened military activities in the vicinity of NATO borders, including large-scale drills (up to 120,000 troops) and snap exercises. Russia continued to provoke dangerous military incidents and violate Allied airspace. It also deployed offensive missile systems — including nuclear capable Iskander — and warships to the Baltic Sea and Black Sea region. These deployments further enhanced the already existing anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities;

  • Strengthened aggressive nuclear-related signals, including statements, bomber flights, and exercises. Russia’s nuclear muscle-flexing seems meant to intimidate;

  • Alleged participation in a plot in October 2016 to kill the prime minister and install a new government in Montenegro — a soon-to-be member of NATO;

  • Continued involvement in the conflict in Syria, including both massive bombing campaigns as well as impediment of a political process. In October 2016 Russia, for the fifth time, vetoed a UN resolution aimed at stopping the bombing of Aleppo.

2017 might be a watershed moment for the liberal global order. This order is challenged not only by zero-sum mindsets, but also the lack of predictability and transparency of a post-truth world. NATO, a crucial transatlantic anchor, has a vital role to play in pushing back against both challenges. NATO-Russia relations will be instrumental to reach that goal. In 2017, NATO and should address these issues with an action plan based on three pillars.

Firstly, to fully implement the Warsaw Summit decisions on deterrence and defence. NATO needs a strategic ‘six-pack’ to strengthen the process of its long-term strategic adaptation. It should embrace defence expenditures, capabilities to counter A2/AD systems, an ambitious exercises policy, robust intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, reviewed NATO Command Structure, and a fully integrated approach to strategic communications.

Secondly, to deepen dialogue with Russia on issues that require our immediate attention. One of these is the snap exercises which are used by Moscow as a tool of intimidation, but might also serve as a camouflage for a military action. The Russian snap exercises are a dangerous escalatory instrument which could further destabilize the Euro-Atlantic region. A meaningful discussion on that issue might bring back the necessary elements that could help restore predictability and transparency.

Thirdly, to continue to constructively engage with Russia in the OSCE framework. At the OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg all members, including Russia, agreed to launch a structured dialogue on the current and future challenges and risks to security in the OSCE area. This initial positive signal from Moscow requires special attention as this declaration might boost the role of the Organization as a platform for a dialogue on security issues. Such a structured dialogue should be simultaneously reinforced by the modernization of the existing instruments, especially the Vienna Document.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.