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Russian Perspectives on Western Military Activities: October 11-24, 2021

Dmitry GorenburgMary ChesnutAnya FinkJulian Waller
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The following is an excerpt from the first section of this report:

NATO’s relations with Russia were a dominant topic of discussion in Russian media during the reporting period. The conversation covered a range of issues, including the continuing deterioration of diplomatic relations, perception of the new NATO Concept for Deterrence and Defense of the Euro-Atlantic Area, NATO military activities near Russia’s borders, the framing of continuing efforts at Russian-Belarussian defense integration as a response to such activities, and the possibility of separate EU security structures being established.

Deterioration of NATO-Russia diplomatic relations

Russian media also continue to discuss the closure of Russia’s NATO mission in response to the previous month’s NATO decision to reduce the size of the mission and expel eight Russian diplomats. An October 21 article in Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie notes that Russian officials blame Brussels for not fulfilling its promises to build a dialog between equals. It asks how Jens Stoltenberg could possibly be surprised that Russian military diplomats serving in Brussels might be intelligence agents, though it argues that such agents work in an entirely aboveboard manner. It goes on to say that while Stoltenberg repeats the mantra that one must communicate with Russia, he does the opposite. As a result, the freeze in relations has now become a full break. Moscow’s response, to close the NATO information bureau and military mission in Moscow, is logical and consistent.

The result, according to Andrey Kortunov as quoted in Kommersant, is effectively a decision by the two sides to permanently end the partnership of previous decades. He believes that the impetus came from Brussels, as “a new NATO strategy is currently being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the former partnership with Russia no longer fits into its concept.” He continues:

However, … it was important for Brussels to lay the blame on Moscow…. By expelling Russian diplomats, Brussels deliberately provoked Moscow to take drastic steps, which… would have allowed Secretary General Stoltenberg to throw up his hands: they say, we were still ready for interaction, but Moscow turned out to be unprepared. The fact that the Russian side ultimately played this game by taking retaliatory steps confirms that Moscow also considers its partnership with NATO to be exhausted.

According to Vasily Kashin, Russian officials believe that “the continued existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main cause for the collapse of the entire complex of relations between Russia and the West…. The continued existence of a Russian mission at NATO weakens Russia’s position and casts doubt on its resolve.”

Two articles discuss the evolution of NATO-Russia relations. A lengthy article in Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie discusses the history of NATO-Russian military cooperation. It highlights Russia’s successes in joint operations with NATO in the Balkans and how those operations led to planning and concrete efforts to increase interoperability between the two sides’ military forces. It also suggests some potential actions that the Russian military might take so as to prepare for possible future opportunities to resume cooperation.

Writing in Topwar.ru, Yevgeniy Fedorov describes the gradual deterioration of the diplomatic component of the relationship. He argues that diplomacy generally worked relatively well until 2014, but after the annexation of Crimea, contacts became purely formal, with Brussels seeking to strengthen its military position in order to dominate any dialog—a form of interaction that obviously did not appeal to Moscow. The closure of Russia’s NATO mission means that even purely formal dialog will now cease and the only remaining channel of communication will be at the level of senior military officials. Fedorov highlights the closure of NATO’s information bureau in Moscow as a positive development, since it “carried out in Russia openly propagandistic, if not subversive, activity.” He concludes by noting that while the current situation was initiated by NATO’s decision to expel Russian diplomats, neither side was particularly interested in maintaining the diplomatic relationship, which elicited irritation from both sides and was primarily used as a bargaining chip in endless confrontations

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Details

  • Pages: 15
  • Document Number: DOP-2021-U-031090-1Rev
  • Publication Date: 10/24/2021
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