Nato tries to heal rift with RussiaBy Christopher Lockwood
Wednesday 16 February 2000
NATO'S Secretary-General, Lord Robertson, flew to Moscow last night in a long-delayed attempt to patch up relations with Russia which were badly damaged by the Kosovo war.
As he left, the former Defence Secretary spoke of the need to turn the page on the disagreements of the past, noting that "the problems of the world are much too great for Nato and Russia to come at from different directions".
But as he boarded his flight it was still not clear whether he would be meeting Vladimir Putin, Russia's acting president, or only its Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, when negotiations begin today. The visit, repeatedly postponed and confirmed only yesterday, follows weeks of negotiations over the return to normal relations which existed before the conflict.
But there seemed little hope that Lord Robertson's mission could be anything more than a partial success. "We are not going to pretend Yugoslavia did not happen," said Gen Leonid Ivashov, a senior Defence Ministry official. "There is absolutely no question of a complete unfreezing of relations.
"Russia should be a full-fledged player in the European field rather than a spectator in the stands . . . Nato should not only hear Russia but also listen to it." Although it is not a member of the 19-country alliance, Russia enjoys a unique status at its Brussels headquarters under the terms of the Nato-Russia Founding Act signed in 1997, which marked a formal end to the Cold War.
Under this Act, Russia sits in a special Joint Permanent Council with Nato's full members, enjoying "a voice but not a veto" in its deliberations. But when the Kosovo war began, Russia withdrew its ambassador to Nato and refused to take part in any meetings of the council.
That position has changed because Russian troops are now serving in Kosovo and Bosnia under Nato command. Russia now attends meetings, but only when they are about the two peacemaking forces. Other, more vital, security and diplomatic issues are not discussed.
The Moscow meeting will be followed by a communiqué, which has caused most of the problems. Russia wants a text which implicitly criticises Nato's action in Kosovo by referring to the need for UN Security Council authorisation, which Nato never obtained. But Lord Robertson has no plans to apologise for Kosovo.
Kosovo is not the only problem. Nato has been deeply critical of Russian action in Chechnya and Russia is still furious at Nato's decision to admit three former Warsaw Pact members, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, as members.