On July 5, 2019, NATO-Russia Council met at NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss three major topics: the situation in Ukraine, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), and transparency and risk mitigation. This year’s second meeting (the 10th ever) was marked by the deadline of August 2 for the U.S. to withdraw from the INF Treaty if Russia did not give in and cease deploying and using SSC-8 missiles. Russia, for its part, had suspended the treaty on July 3.
The discussion was open, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who chaired the NATO-Russia Council. However, no significant progress had been made. “We did not see any signs of a breakthrough,” said Stoltenberg. He continued: “NATO allies and Russia have fundamentally different views, but we are determined to continue the dialogue.” And finally summed up: “We must prepare for a world without INF that will be less stable.” This was the formula agreed at the meeting of NATO defence ministers on June 26. When asked about possible NATO reactions, in particular a relocation of nuclear assets, Jens Stoltenberg referred to this meeting without going into detail. The Alliance would react united, coordinated and defensive. He ruled out the deployment of nuclear weapons thus a ‘Tit for Tat’ (literally: “We don’t have intentions to deploy nuclear missiles in Europe, we will not mirror what Russia does.”).
Moscow’s position is that it is still complying with the treaty signed on December 8, 1987 between the former Soviet Union and the United States, which entered into force on June 1, 1988. In a statement issued by Russia’s Permanent Representation to NATO after the meeting, it was pointed out that there was absolutely no reason to blame Moscow for the failure of the INF Treaty.
On June 18, the Duma approved the law on the suspension of the INF Treaty by Russia, which passed the Upper House, the Federation Council, on June 26. It was signed on July 3 by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Shortly after, in an interview with ‘Corriere della Serra’, he underlined that Russia was not aiming for an arms race, only for protection. And, he would be open to a new agreement, however, it is now to the United States of America to get the ball rolling.
Concerning Ukraine, there was also no significant rapprochement in the NATO-Russia Council. Briefings on forthcoming and expired exercises were exchanged under the agenda item transparency and risk reduction. NATO provided information on DYNAMIC MARINER 2019 and TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2018. Russia reported on TSENTR and UNION SHIELD exercises. Such an exchange is an important element of the ongoing dialogue and helps to limit the risk of misunderstandings and miscalculations, said the apparently frustrated NATO Secretary General.
It seems that we are approaching a turning point. Even if Jens Stoltenberg does not tire of pointing out that there is still time to save the INF Treaty. In view of Moscow’s latest move, a huge step is needed for both, Moscow and Washington to move towards each other in order to enter substantial talks. Concessions are not in sight – on neither side. Besides, it remains the fundamental question – who cares? Beyond some politicians and defense or security policy related think tanks, there seems not to be a broader echo.
Hans Uwe Mergener