Washington briefing: NATO: contacts to resume with Russia; no new decisions on Georgia, Ukraine

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Saturday December 06, 2008

Meeting on December 2, NATO foreign ministers agreed to resume some of of the alliance's contacts with Russia, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported. The relations were suspended three months earlier over Russian military intervention in Georgia.

The United States has pushed for a tougher international reaction to Russian treatment of America's close ally, leading to temporary suspension of NATO and European Union contacts with Russia.

But last month, shortly after the U.S. presidential elections, the EU resumed partnership talks with Russia over Georgian objections. (See this page in the November 15 Armenian Reporter.)

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said this week that NATO's "graduated re-engagement" with Russia does not mean that the alliance agrees with Russian policies in Georgia.

In another anticipated decision, NATO officials again declined to grant Georgia and Ukraine membership action plans (MAPs). At the same time, they reiterated the NATO's Bucharest summit statement that promised eventual membership to both countries last April, and promised to continue to assist Ukarine and Georgia to achieve "NATO standards."

Reacting to these developments, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on November 28 that he was "pleased that reason has prevailed, unfortunately only at the end of the current U.S. administration. But this at least ascertains the current state of affairs."

Mr. Medvedev made his comments in Cuba where he arrived from Venezuela, whose forces just held joint exercises with a Russian naval group currently in the Carribean.

Russia has strongly opposed NATO's expansion into Ukraine and Georgia.

As Eugeniusz Smolar of the Polish Center for International Relations told RFE/RL, "The Georgia war, in the opinion of most NATO members, is not only an example of Russian aggression - which it was. It was also an example of the irresponsible behavior of the present Georgian leadership."

Last week the Polish security service blamed Georgian leaders for endangering the life of the Polish president on a visit to Georgia when his convoy abruptly turned toward Ossetian territory, causing a shooting incident. Poland has been one of Georgia's staunchest supporters in NATO and the EU.
"In this context, many NATO members - and not just Germany and France - say that they are not politically ready to defend a country that is behaving in such a manner," Mr. Smolar said.

But proponents of NATO expansion suggest the incoming administration of Barack Obama could help mend ties between the United States and Europe, probably at Russia's expense.

"If you imagine in three years' time, if we have a stable government in Ukraine, a different Georgian leadership, a Russia that is preoccupied with its own problems, and a more popular American administration, NATO expansion might not look so crazy," Edward Lucas, deputy editor at the Economist, told RFE/RL.

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