18 November 2010
By Tomas Karasek and Jakub Kulhanek
Despite vague proclamations, the current rapprochement between Russia and the West lacks any solid foundation for overhauling their security relationship. But the little-explored area of defense cooperation could potentially help them build a more lasting partnership.
The Russian-Czech joint modernization program to upgrade Russian-made Mi helicopters is a good example that is significant in several ways. First and foremost, the agreement demonstrates to the Russians the Western willingness to let their technologies be used in active NATO campaigns — in this case, Afghanistan. Second, the cooperation concerns a segment of the defense market that is relatively nonsensitive, thereby becoming an ideal test ground for similar projects in the future.
For NATO policymakers, it is paramount that Western leaders recognize potential benefits of and shed their biases against defense cooperation with Russia. It is true that by letting Russian companies enter the European defense market, European defense manufacturers might face greater competition. But in the long run, the benefits of defense cooperation far outweigh the potential costs.
If any substantial defense cooperation is to take place, it is crucial that the Kremlin removes burdensome restrictions on its defense sector. Russia should pass legislation to enable its defense industry to conclude joint ventures with Western companies. Russia should emphasize its competitive edge in the field of transport helicopters and air defenses, support these industries at home and promote their products abroad.
In the long term, Russia and EU countries should develop a feasibility study to construct a joint military transport helicopter. In so doing, Russia and Europe should build on the basis of a failed initiative between Russia, France and Germany to develop a Russian Mi-26 transport helicopter. Russia has an extensive experience with building helicopters that are reliable and easy to maintain. In return, European countries can offer investment and advanced technologies. If this project is successful, it can lead to development of other components of tactical and strategic airlift.
Tomas Karasek is director of the Research Center of the Association of International Affairs, a Prague-based think tank. Jakub Kulhanek is head of the East European Center at the Association for International Relations. Pres Komorowski: NATO-Russia relations cannot threaten regional security
On the eve of the NATO summit in Lisbon, President Bronislaw Komorowski has stated that the development of NATO-Russia relations cannot be undertaken at the cost of security interests of countries in eastern Europe.
The comment comes as the NATO meet in Lisbon is to approve the Alliance’s new Strategic Concept, a paper which is to define NATO’s role for the next decade, and which is to clarify relations between the bloc and Russia.
Komorowski writes in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily that “the security guarantees of each member state in NATO are set on an equal basis,” a reference to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which guarantees mutual defence in the event of an attack on one of NATO’s member states.
“However, this equal degree [of security] must be deliberated when taking into account the geo-strategic location of each member state,” President Komorowski states, adding that “the assurance of security guarantees differs for countries in the western part of our continent than those for countries like Poland which is [at the Alliance’s] periphery.”
Komorowski writes that NATO should still actively undertake efforts to stabilise regional security, stating that relations with Russia should “be developed in such a way that mutual security benefits are achieved for both sides,” on the stipulation that “NATO-Russia relations cannot be developed at the cost of security interests of other countries in eastern Europe.”
However, “this [statement] should not be understood as a categorisation of spheres of interest,” Komorowski underlines.
The NATO summit in Lisbon starts tomorrow, Friday. (jb)
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will sign an agreement with the leaders of the NATO alliance on Saturday aimed at expanding the use of supply routes through Russia into Afghanistan, as part of an effort to improve ties between the former antagonists.
The leaders of the 28 North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, including President Barack Obama, also will agree with Russia at a meeting in Lisbon to investigate ways in which they can cooperate on defenses against the dangers posed by ballistic missiles.
The effort to warm relations threatens to be set back by delays in the U.S. in ratifying the Start arms-control treaty, which is aimed at reducing numbers of the two countries' strategic nuclear arsenals. A key Republican senator, Jon Kyl of Arizona, said Tuesday that he wouldn't support ratifying the treaty this year, delivering a blow to a central White House foreign-policy objective.
Despite this, Russia and NATO signaled this week they wanted to enhance ties that reached a recent low point after Russia's August 2008 invasion of Georgia.
"We want this summit to turn the page on the NATO-Russian relationship," said Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, in an interview. Russia needs predictable relations with the world's largest political-military alliance, he said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the summit would mark a "fresh start in our relationship with Russia. ...The time has come to stop worrying about each other...and to work together, and we will," he said.
The NATO-Russia meeting comes after a summit that begins Friday, where NATO members are expected to agree to a new strategy for the alliance.
Diplomats said the alliance is expected to sign off on a plan to convert a U.S. missile-defense program into a NATO project aimed at defending all alliance territory in Europe and Turkey.
Although the system is initially aimed to deal with what they see as a potential threat from Tehran, the leaders won't name Iran. They note that more than 30 countries are developing ballistic missiles capable of reaching NATO territory.
On Saturday, there will also be a summit of the 49 nations involved in the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
The leaders are expected to sign off on a plan to begin handing over security to Afghan forces next year and ending the alliance's combat role in the country in 2014.
The transit agreement with Russia will expand the goods that can be sent on rail routes through Russia to include armored cars, such as U.S. MRAPs, according to NATO officials. Some 4,000 containers have passed through Russia to Afghanistan since 2008, according to NATO and Russian officials, and the number of shipments has accelerated since June.
Supplying Afghanistan from the north is 90% cheaper than airlifting in supplies, and less hazardous than transporting them by truck through Pakistan.
Mr. Rasmussen said Russia also is expected to permit goods to be shipped out of Afghanistan through its territory.
At the moment, railroad cars return empty from the border with Afghanistan, so that change could be a big help as the alliance reduces its combat role in the country.
Mr. Rasmussen said that only nonlethal materials would be allowed to go through Russia.
Mr. Rogozin indicated that, despite the expected agreement on possible missile-defense cooperation, Russia had continuing concerns that the system could be directed against it. "Why, if you want to hunt a rabbit, do your guns have the caliber to kill a bear?" he asked.
He said the alliance should put restrictions on the missile-defense system's "geography, quality and quantity."
The current U.S. plan, particularly in its later phases, "is nothing to do with the threat," Mr. Rogozin said.
He said Mr. Medvedev would nonetheless suggest a plan for possible cooperation, including sharing information about missile programs in third countries, joint use of reconnaissance information and, possibly, sharing technical information and technology.
The warming ties follow Mr. Obama's March 2009 initiative to "reset or reboot" the relationship with Russia. However, Samuel Charap, a Russia specialist at the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington, said the delay on Start "makes Russia doubt whether Obama is a partner worth doing business with again."
Russian officials expressed hope that any delay in ratification wouldn't scuttle the treaty or derail the improvement in U.S.-Russian relations.
"I haven't the slightest fears about the policy of 'reset,' " said Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the upper house of Russia's parliament. Sen. Kyl's concerns "are related not to U.S.-Russia relations but to U.S. domestic politics," he said, adding, "He's not proposing torpedoing ratification, just delaying it."
Russian officials said they still hope ratification could happen before the end of the year, in line with assurances Mr. Obama gave Mr. Medvedev when they met in Japan over the past weekend. A long delay in the process could threaten Russian cooperation in other areas, such as containing Iran's nuclear ambitions and supporting the NATO war effort in Afghanistan, Mr. Margelov said.
Alexei Klimov, deputy chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, underlined that the treaty is in both sides' interests. He said Moscow is willing to be patient and won't ratify the treaty before the U.S. does. "We'd like to do it, but we're not pulling our hair out to get it done," he said. "It would be a shame if such a serious document becomes a hostage in a partisan political battle."
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