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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Why Not Join NATO?

The announcement by the new security council chairman, Ivan Rybkin, that Russia might enter the political organization of NATO could have been a sensation if it had been an official response to the proposals that have been put forward these past few weeks by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization members. U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry has said that NATO's doors are not closed to Moscow, and the NATO secretary general, Javier Solana, has suggested that a treaty with Russia be concluded next year.

Rybkin's statement could mean a fundamental revision of Moscow's position. This is the position that NATO is not capable of undergoing sufficient changes for it to be the basis for an architecture of European security, which is why Russia considered that NATO expansion to the east would bring nothing positive to the country. If enlargement of the alliance did not mean preparing for a new military confrontation, it clearly showed that the West was worried about the uncontrolled chaos that could arise on the post-Soviet territory.

But there was no sensation. It is simply that the level of freedom in the country has developed to such a degree that high-level government officials are emboldened to speak out on the most important of questions. Many officials, however, have not recognized the need to coordinate their positions with the government before making them public.

There is a rich variety of opinion on questions that require a unified government position, which makes foreign observers suspect that subtle diplomatic games are being played. Most often, however, such diversity of opinion is owing to nothing other than the ambitions of politicians and the usual confusion that is characteristic of Moscow. Indeed, soon after the national security adviser's statement, there followed announcements by the president's aide on international affairs that no negotiations with NATO would take place and that Russia's position toward NATO had not changed.

The Kremlin appears not to have worked out a clear political strategy on NATO. However, it has finally understood that the time has come for everyone to make some difficult decisions. The period when the process of NATO enlargement could be braked is elapsing. And it is now that Moscow must decisively set out its position. Until now, Russia has practically limited itself to firmly opposing the approaching of the North Atlantic bloc to its borders.

The Kremlin is doing everything possible to minimize the negative consequences of NATO expansion. This is why various individual proposals that are thought up during brainstorming sessions at the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and security council are reaching the public. It's good that no one is considering the possibility of responding militarily by deploying tactical nuclear missiles in the border regions. The Kremlin understands that even if it had enough forces, Russia would find itself severely isolated with few prospects. Such isolation would be above all to Russia's disadvantage.

In sum, there is a prevailing opinion that it is unproductive only to keep repeating nyet to NATO enlargement. Instead, it is time for Russia to propose something positive to its Western partners. They know what Russia does not want. But the country should distinctly formulate what it wants. There are several promising directions it can take.

The upcoming summit in Lisbon of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe offers Russia the opportunity to put forward concrete proposals on how it conceives European security. Today, there are some very constructive ideas that are being advanced on how to convert the OSCE into a truly effective organization. Its security council has discussed how it can be involved in early crisis warning and active peacekeeping. The other approach is establishing a post of OSCE secretary general in which Russia should be extremely active. It must show that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe could be the basis on which the framework of European security can be built.

Russia is not the only country to share this view. Moscow's interests correspond to those of Paris in that each country is interested in a deeper transformation of NATO. It is above all a question of the European component of security. France and Germany would like to see the European Union have its own security structure. All this has a direct relation to NATO expansion to the east. NATO headquarters is now creating purely European structures that, if necessary, could act under the leadership of the Western European Union. Russia could find a place for itself in these very structures. In essence, such general structures already exist in the international peacekeeping forces in Bosnia.

Finally, of utmost importance is an agreement between Russia and NATO. It is not, of course, a matter of what the document will be called, whether it be an agreement or a charter. Moscow is, first and foremost, interested in the possibility of real participation in all important decisions. But this will be a difficult task to achieve if Moscow does not enter NATO. Perhaps the task can be solved through Russia's participation in the NATO political structure. Far from all would agree to such a decision. Many in Russia, and what's more, in the West, are not prepared for this. But one can already see steps that are being taken to settle this acute problem.

Alexander Golz is senior correspondent for the weekly Itogi. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.