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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Pact: Historic Step For Europe

Moscow has signed a friendship treaty with the military alliance that was formed to oppose and contain it more than 40 years ago. This is the true meaning of Russia's accession to NATO's Partnership for Peace program and, despite all the rather comic squabbling that has gone before, it is a vital moment in history. Right up to the last moment Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev kept trying to persuade NATO to give Moscow a real voice in the alliance's decision-making process in exchange for his signature on the otherwise rather frothy peace plan. He did not get it. What Kozyrev obtained instead was a facing-saving document for Russia that acknowledges its status as a great military power, but denies Moscow any special rights within NATO. Any such step would have had the former Soviet satellites quaking in their boots in the belief that -- once again -- they were being abandoned by the West to Moscow's influence. As a result, NATO's post-Soviet relationship with Russia is far from resolved. The extent of Russia's security zone -- its sphere of influence as Winston Churchill used to say while he was busy carving up Europe together with Stalin -- has still to be decided. Under the best possible construction, Russia's inclusion in the Partnership for Peace was to avoid drawing a new line through Europe defining where the security zone of NATO ends and that of Moscow begins. At least this was the plan's stated intention when it was announced. But the bitter disputes that went on in Istanbul earlier this month between Kozyrev and his NATO colleagues, together with Russia's expanding role in the Commonwealth of Independent States, suggest that this kind of security condominium is an impossible dream. A new dividing line is already emerging. The fates of Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia and the Baltic states remain particularly in question as Moscow reasserts itself in the former Soviet republics and ponders where its writ should end. There is no longer any question who is boss in the Transcaucasus, Central Asia, Belarus or Ukraine -- in these areas Moscow has virtually a free hand. In reality, Russia is unlikely ever to become just another team player in Europe. This is hardly surprising. France balked at submitting to U.S. domination in NATO and remained outside the alliance even at the height of the Cold War. Why should vast Russia be more willing to submit? These weaknesses in the partnership plan notwithstanding, Moscow's decision to join even on NATO's terms signals that the government remains anxious to bury the Cold War hatchet regardless of rising nationalism at home. And that has to be welcome news.