Russia's security proposal doesn't threaten NATO, official says

Posted in NATO , Russia | 29-Jul-08 | Author: Judy Dempsey| Source: International Herald Tribune

Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin speaks during a news conference in Moscow in this January 24, 2008.

BERLIN: Russia's ambassador to NATO said Monday that the Kremlin had no intention of undermining the NATO military alliance or, for that matter, any other organization established during the Cold War.

"Our ideas are profoundly misunderstood," Dmitri Rogozin, Russia's envoy to the trans-Atlantic alliance, told NATO's top diplomats during a two-hour meeting in which he said the Kremlin was working on a new foreign policy concept.

Central to that concept are plans for establishing a security structure that would stretch from Canada across Russia to China. But military experts suspect such a new forum could eventually supersede NATO, of which Russia is not a member, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in which Russia is a member and plays a big role.

Russia, increasingly wealthy, thanks to energy exports, and thus newly confident, is prepared to adopt a more assertive foreign policy stance, President Dmitri Medvedev made clear in his speech to Russian ambassadors this month. He proposed "a modern European architecture that would be designed for 21st-century realities."

Ambassadors at NATO headquarters in Brussels, eager to hear much more about Russia's intentions, politely bombarded Rogozin - an often outspoken diplomat known for his nationalist views - with questions about the new security structure. What would it mean for NATO? What would happen to other international structures? How would Russia build this new system? How would it work? What was wrong with the existing organizations?

Rogozin was willing to field many questions from the ambassadors who spoke, who included those from the United States, Britain and Eastern Europe, according to diplomats present at the meeting.

But to the disappointment of the envoys, eager for much more information, Rogozin was short of answers; work on the security concept was still in progress.

"Ambassador Rogozin did not go into any detail on President Medvedev's proposals," said James Appathurai, NATO spokesman. "The ambassadors asked a number of fundamental questions, which Ambassador Rogozin promised to deal with in more detail in September."

In London, the Foreign Office said NATO remained central to Europe's security, regardless of Russia's proposals. "Russia has an important role to play on the international stage," said Paul Sykes, a Foreign Office spokesman. "We have always been of the fundamental view that NATO is the key to Europe's security, and that remains our view."

In Vienna, senior diplomats at the Organization for Security and Cooperation, which was established in 1975 to try to ease East-West tensions, said they were intrigued by the Kremlin's approach.

Alexander Stubb, the Finnish foreign minister, who is the organization's chairman in office, said he was "inquisitive."

"I'm positive of the fact that the Russians have come up with a constructive idea, as opposed to, for instance, criticizing NATO," Stubb said. "I want to have a look at it very carefully, but to me there cannot and there should not be any kind of a European security organization without the United States."

Martin Nesirky, spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it looked forward to hearing more details.

"The OSCE, quite clearly, has been part of the European security architecture from the very start," Nesirky said, referring to the organization. "It must remain an instrumental part of that architecture."

In proposing new security architecture for Europe, the Kremlin wants to avert decisions by the United States or European nations that lack support from the United Nations, like the U.S-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the recognition by the United States and most European Union countries of Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Such actions, the Kremlin argues, have made a mockery of international law.

At the heart of the proposals is the idea that any new European security treaty would be a legally binding document based on the UN Charter, Rogozin said in an interview by e-mail last week.

He said Russia would also convene an international forum that would include the Organization for Security and Cooperation, NATO, the European Union, the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States and the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes Central Asian countries.

The main reason for a new security pact is that Europe can no longer cope with the problems it faces, according to one of the proposals. "Modern European security is overwhelmed with problems, ranging from NATO enlargement to illegal migration, drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism," Rogozin said in the interview.