Is Nato a threat to Russia? For many members of both Russia's political elite and the public, the answer to this question is no more than formality - Nato, by definition, is Russia's number one military enemy.
I find this opinion to be extremely dubious, especially considering the advances we have made since the end of the Cold War. In this period, Nato has drastically cut its forces, a process which continues to this day. There has been no corresponding level of rearmament (contrary to widely-held misunderstandings). And these moves have allowed Russia to reduce its own troops. In the last few years, Russia's forces have been slashed by 40pc in the north-west region adjacent to Nato countries.
The above being so, sometimes both sides behave as if they are not aware of these facts, and any idea that we might have common interests disappears against a background of polemic.
These common interests are numerous: how we view new security threats and challenges, and the ways we counter them; how we fight against terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons; and how we prepare for joint peacemaking operations.
We have had a history of real co-operation, especially following the formation of the Nato-Russia Council in May 2002. We have signed joint agreements on international terrorism; we have sent peacemakers to the Balkans and signed an agreement on rescue at sea; we have conducted a number of joint theatre missile defence exercises and taken part in Nato's Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean; and both sides recently carried out a pilot programme on joint counternarcotic training at the Russian Internal Ministry's training centre in Domodedovo.
Russia is prepared to go even further with projects in the sphere of international security. In 2006, it invited Nato and members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan) to pool efforts in order to create an anti-drug security belt around Afghanistan. Then Russia suggested that the Collective Security Treaty Organisation should act outside Afghanistan, and that Nato should continue operating inside the country. It was regrettable that Nato did not respond to the constructive proposal.
Increasingly, however, it seems that these practical steps are being eclipsed by fears and stereotypes.
Russia should resist these and continue cooperation with Nato in line with its national interests. At the same time, Russia should remember that it is not in its national interests to isolate itself from the West. -
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