Ivan Timofeev's Blog

Russia is Part and Parcel of the Euro-Atlantic Security Architecture

June 25, 2013

RIAC Program Director Ivan Timofeev delivered a report at a workshop on Russia's role in the Euro-Atlantic security held by the City Council of Turku, Finland, and sponsored by the Alexander Institute of the University of Helsinki and the Atlantic Council of Finland.


The main points of Dr. Timofeev's presentation are as follows.


The issue of Russia's belonging to the Euro-Atlantic security architecture has been discussed at all levels for over 20 years. In fact, most are confident that Russia has a role in it, but this positive answer is usually followed by a series of reservations, their number and intensity depending on the insight and politicization of the assessment.


Let us try to find an answer that is both as pragmatic and as unbiased as possible. This approach seems all the more than reasonable since Finland is a neutral country. So, the discussion should, naturally, be more unprejudiced. It is also significant that we meet in the Turku City Council. Back in the Middle Ages, such institutions provided fertile grounds for the exchange of opinions, so that answers to some of the most intricate questions could be found. I am thankful to the City Council for their hospitality, and to the Alexander Institute and Atlantic Council of Finland for making this gathering possible. I do hope that our presentations will help us get to the root of the issue, which is even more significant given the upcoming visit by Russia's President Vladimir Putin to Finland.

I would like to kick off with the main point – Russian interests – as it seems vital to understanding our niche in the Euro-Atlantic community. The key foreign policy interest is tightly linked with domestic issues, i.e. the comprehensive development and modernization of Russia's economy and governance system. There is not much point in hoping for a meaningful and constructive role for our country in the world if these problems remain unhandled.


Is it really connected with foreign policy? It definitely is. Russia's internal development requires a degree of friendliness from the outside world, primarily from the industrialized countries. In addition to tackling common regional and global matters, this partnership is vital for Russia as it focuses on domestic issues, since it provides a source of indispensable technologies, investments, competencies and best practices for us to integrate into our economy as part of the existing international interconnections and markets.


Another, by no means less important, issue is that of concentrating limited resources on countering key challenges. Peaceful and friendly borders to the West are essential – enabling us to concentrate on other matters. For example, up to 100,000 people, mostly young people, die in Russia each year from drugs, not to mention the needless deaths of those who become infected with AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases. The bulk of these narcotics comes the South, i.e. Afghanistan and Central Asia.


This example alone indicates that Russia's genuine security problems lie in an utterly new plane. Whereas in the Cold War days we feared a major conflict with the West that could obliterate the country in one fell swoop, now we have to worry about other threats, those that slowly corrode the state and, sooner or later, may ruin it. Our Western neighbors also face these same threats, and this fact makes our partnership quite natural. Hence, my answer to the key issue of our discussion will be positive.

We should pay our dues to our political leaders and diplomats, who have been successful in building effective and mutually beneficial cooperation in working to solve the Afghan problem. I am confident it is in Russia's interests to promote the stability and development of the Afghan state, jointly with the United States and European partners after the expected withdrawal of the coalition forces in 2014.


Other challenges are also momentous. We can see a good sign in the dialog on cyber security launched by presidents of Russia and the United States on the sidelines of the G8 summit. Engagement of other NATO states may as well lay the ground for a new dimension of the Euro-Atlantic security.


The Russia-NATO Council is definitely a major factor in Moscow's partnership with NATO. The Council is not perfect; it has its limitations and defects. But it provides a forum for continuous and systemic communication. Changes can be initiated by enthusiasts but they come into being through institutions. So, institutionalized relations form the meaningful foundation for advancing cooperation.

Now, I would add a touch of pessimism. Russia and NATO are partners, but the relationship has not yet grown into integration, with the issue unlikely to surface on the agenda in the near and midterm future. The security dilemma remains, although it is not as acute as it was 20 years ago. At least, NATO is not qualified as a threat by Russia's military doctrine. It only talks about potential threats in connection with unilateral steps toward the bloc’s expansion. NATO top brass also refrains from the outward expression of military concerns about Russia, which however pop up through the notorious WikiLeaks.

At the same time, one should realize that non-allied military entities must, by definition, account for each other's defense potentials. This is what the military are supposed to do. But this should not be politicized and threats should not be exaggerated to stir up the public.

A clear example can be found in Russia's defense spending and military reform. Western media, analysts and politicians are sounding the alarm. But what is the reality? In recent years, Moscow has invested a lot in switching over from the Cold War-style army to a flexible force which is able to tackle current and local conflicts, but which hardly carries sufficient offensive potential to pose a threat as it did 20 years ago. NATO states also seem eager to optimize their defense expenditures, shifting to smart defense. Hence, the excessive alarmism from both sides is often perplexing.


At the same time, contradictions and mismatched attitudes do remain, including over NATO’s possible eastward expansion, differences on Syria, humanitarian intervention, etc. These differences require debate and discussion, but hardly provide grounds for enmity. Besides, the causes are more or less clear. Here are some of the main ones.


First, Russia does not seem to have found an understanding of NATO's current role. I dare say the same is true for the alliance. What is the grand role of the bloc? During the Cold War it was as a deterrent against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Neither exists any more. However, one can hardly see a task as momentous as that on NATO’s agenda today. As a result, the inertial orientation to the containment of Russia is suitable and convenient for many. Hence, we have inherited this mistrust, so much talked about today. A lack of certainty begets a lack of trust.


Second, NATO has grown into a heterogeneous structure, incorporating countries that have developed differing agendas vis-à-vis Russia during the past 20 years. For example, Russia's relations with the United States have, to a great extent, been determined by MAD logic. The situation with the U.S. European allies is quite different, as we see close economic interdependence that pushes security into the background. At the same time, there are at least two tiers within the European package. Pragmatism prevails in relations with Germany, France and Italy, while emotions and burdens of the past still overshadow the new NATO members, such as the Baltic countries. This aspect deserves understanding but politicization should not guide the process.


Third, there are social groups in Russia that find comfort in regarding NATO as enemy. And there are politicians who effectively exploit these preferences. I cannot see an of NATO and the West as the enemy consistently constructed by the elites. But we should account for the fact that such a demand can still be seen among the choices of certain social groups. Fortunately, a new generation is taking its place in governments, businesses and NGOs both in Russia and in other countries. This generation remembers the Cold War but displays absolutely different likings and even values, possibly enabling it to overcome this inertia in Russia and elsewhere.


Foreseeing a question on Russia's domestic policy and its connection with its foreign strategy, I can say that the West has long nurtured the idea that Russia cannot be a full-fledged security partner until it becomes a democracy ruled by law. And this argument is widely used in practical communication. What we need here is consistency and caution. True, there is a lot to be done at home in raising government efficiency and the supremacy of the law, in diversifying the economy and developing local government. There are abundant problems. And it is only Russia that is able to tackle them within a long-term framework. This was a long process in other countries as well. And it is not yet clear what kind of metamorphoses are in store for the political systems in the industrialized world from the cyber security perspective. The point is that Russia needs openness in its relations with its European and American partners. Any new version of the Iron Curtain, no whichever side hangs it up, will only cause severe damage.


Finally, during the past 20 years we have been witnessing a change in the world order, entailing an absence of clarity as to the balance of forces, rules of the game, challenges and threats. To an extent, Russia and NATO have, for this reason, found it difficult to outline their long-term strategies. Russia's reactive policies – the subject of extensive criticism – have been determined by objective factors rather than strategists’ subjective traits. However, order is sure to emerge in the coming 20 years, as the system of international relations cannot undergo transformation eternally. We need to understand that the world will no longer depend on the Russia-NATO relationship as it did in the Cold War era and the years that followed. Hence, we should identify a strategy that makes it possible to strengthen security within a partnership and on mutually beneficial terms.  

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