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NATO and Russia Shake Hands,
but Will They Come Out Sparring?

By MICHAEL WINES, New York Time 5/28/2002

MOSCOW, May 28 - Anyone who doubted that today's formation of a new NATO-Russia Council was something of a diplomatic triumph needed only to listen to leader after leader calling it historic.

Anyone who doubts that moving from diplomatic triumph to real NATO-Russia cooperation will be more difficult need only listen to Dmitri Trenin, who just returned from the NATO Defense College, a few miles from where the accord was signed today.

Mr. Trenin, an expert on Russian foreign and military policies, lectured to Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks, Albanians and Macedonians, among others. But not to Russians: the only Russian to enroll in a senior course came in 1997, and he left early.

``I had a course of people from 31 nations, and not a single Russian,'' Mr. Trenin said. Officials at the college ``have been complaining and writing letters,'' he said. ``And yet there's no response.''

It is a small but sobering indicator of the grunt work that awaits the bureaucrats and military officers on both sides of the East-West divide who are supposed to translate soaring pronouncements into real trust.

Their leaders may have embalmed and buried the cold war, but the cold truth, many experts say, is that too many veterans of that era on both sides still neither like nor trust one another very much.

The new NATO-Russia Council is the first organization to give the Kremlin a say, though not a veto, in the actual deliberations of the Western alliance. The previous effort to bind Russia and NATO was an abject failure in both sides' eyes. A host of mutual suspicions dogged the two sides' contacts, and the effort was doomed by Russian outrage over NATO's war in 1999 against Yugoslavia, then Russia's ally.

``The atmosphere is significantly better this time than it was in '97,'' a senior Bush administration official said. ``But it is really going to take a commitment on all sides to do the tough work necessary to move this process forward.''

Russians and Westerners alike say the new alliance faces potential pitfalls.

One is that neither NATO nor the Kremlin will display the political will to make the new council work. The range of issues now open to Russian influence is potentially sweeping, from counterterrorism to the spread of weapons to peacekeeping. But so are the loopholes: under the new rules, any NATO member can take an issue off the NATO-Russia discussion agenda for any reason.

Among some experts, that sounds like an open invitation to some of NATO's more Russophobic members - mostly former eastern European satellites of the Soviet Union - to filibuster the new relationship to an early death.

As for Russia, experts on both sides say their greatest fear is that the Kremlin lacks the experienced and Western-savvy bureaucrats essential to the council's success.

Few doubt that Mr. Putin is committed to making the new arrangement work. But his control of the bureaucracy is limited at best, and many of the bureaucracy's best and brightest left long ago for lucrative private-sector jobs. Their departure left large parts of the military and foreign policy establishment in the hands of career officials schooled in the ideologies of the 1970's and 1980's.

``One of the fears on our side is that the Russians are going to staff this mission with the same sort of people they staffed it with over the past several years: people who largely look at this as an intelligence-gathering operation, not as an opportunity for genuine cooperation,'' the Bush administration official said.

Even if high-level cooperation on the council succeeds, some fear that the two sides' militaries will be too hamstrung by cold war enmity to execute NATO-Russia political decisions.

Western officials say cultural exchange efforts like stints at the NATO Defense College have stagnated since the mid-1990's, picking up only recently.

While East-West military contacts continue, Russian military participation in NATO exercises is rare, grudging and often cast as ``observation`` of the alliance's maneuvers instead of true involvement.

That will probably not be important in the near future, because the new council does not contemplate any quick melding of Western and Russian military capacity, said Vladimir Z. Dvorkin, a retired major general now at the PIR Center, a Russian policy research organization. ``But in the future,'' he said, ``everything will depend on the technology of this cooperation, and on how deep it will penetrate the armed forces.''

Mr. Dvorkin said Russia and NATO, whose militaries keep the peace side by side in the Balkans, needed to broaden military cooperation on real-world problems - say, a joint exercise against a hypothetical terrorist enemy - and to step up exchanges of military officials.

Finally, both sides worry that the best of intentions will still be torpedoed by a Yugoslavia-style military crisis that sours relations once more. The prime candidate is Iraq, a Russian friend and economic partner.

Ordinary Russians' suspicion of NATO already runs high, according to a poll by the Mosocw-based Public Opinion Foundation.

``You can use this new council to learn more about NATO from the inside, or you can use it to raise obstacles from inside to any alternative course of action you think wil damage your interests,'' said Mr. Trenin, the deputy director of the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ``Or you can be forward looking and use the council as a vehicle for Russia's security and integration with the West.



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