For the last two and a half years NATO and Russia have been striving to warm their relations. Ahead of the Lisbon summit that process seems to be bearing fruit. NATO’s secretary general has visited Moscow several times recently to assure the west’s former cold war enemy that it is a valued partner which is crucial for the alliance.
“I am here to confirm that one of my priorities as secretary general of NATO is improve the relationship between NATO and Russia, to ensure that our relationship will be a trusting and productive one,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the first of those meetings.
It is a far cry from the atmosphere that dominated east-west relations over the last century, in particular following WWII, when they had been allies against the Nazis. NATO was created in 1949 in response to what Winston Churchill called an “iron curtain” coming down over eastern Europe. It was the start of the cold war.
Forty years later it was over, and NATO was faced with a new challenge; how to integrate former Soviet satellite nations and the newly-independent Soviet republics. NATO grew eastwards and signed with Russia and a group of other states the “Partnership for Peace” which allowed, among other things, joint
But this warming soon chilled with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raising the old demons. The nadir was reached in 2008 when the Georgian invasion led to a suspension of formal relations with NATO. Moscow accused NATO of supporting Georgia and its push into South Ossettia and of rearming Georgia after its defeat when Russian forces expelled the Georgians and drove deep into Georgian territory.
Then there was the missile shield row. Initially proposed by George W Bush to protect the US and its allies from potential attacks from North Korea or Iran it included bases in Poland and the Czech republic. That enraged Moscow, which claimed it would put spying facilities on its doorstep. In 2009 President Barack Obama changed course.
“Our new approach will therefore deploy new technologies that are proven and cost-effective and that counter the current threat, and do so sooner than the previous programme,” he said.
The new version of the missile shield includes, as first planned, bases, radars, and interceptor missiles in the US, Greenland, the UK, and Alaska. But the 10 interceptors destined for Poland and the radar station in the Czech Republic have been abandoned for the moment. Instead Aegis missile cruisers will take their place, less expensive, and more mobile.
This has calmed Russian fears and put co-operation back on the agenda, notably in Afghanistan where until now the Russians have been unwilling to return after their disastrous intervention in the 1980s. In October NATO and Russia jointly struck against drugs traffickers.