Opinion: Verbal slugfest at NATO-Russia meeting
Moscow may present the reconvening of the NATO-Russia Council as a political victory of sorts. The Kremlin must decide whether it is worth maintaining the cooperation, DW's Barbara Wesel writes.
It was a "serious and frank exchange," the secretary-general of NATO said after the meeting. In the language of diplomacy, that means that the sides were close to a fight. The Russian ambassador had struck an icy tone, claiming that the relationship between NATO and Russia is very bad - that the sides have no positive agenda and no mutual interests. NATO has supposedly switched from partnership mode to deterrent. This is Moscow's interpretation of its place on the international stage following Russia's interventions in Ukraine, Crimea and Syria.
The cooperation was shelved almost two years ago, following Russia's annexation of Crimea. The reconvening serves as a barometer. The aim is to re-establish dialogue, at least at a minimal level, and to create some transparency and predictability. Another aim is to avoid "misunderstandings". This is a friendly term for recent military provocations by Russian fighter jets against NATO aircraft and ships in the Baltic Sea. Vladimir Putin seems to be having fun playing with fire.
Putin used the meeting in Brussels as a Wailing Wall: With great indignation, he accused NATO of unlawfully expanding in Eastern Europe. The increased deployment of troops there, however, was ordered at the request of the Baltic States and Poland, who feel threatened - by Russia. Again, the reason for this is the annexation of Crimea. This little detail is regularly omitted in Russia's propaganda campaigns.
The NATO-Russia Council has just provided Putin with another forum for heaping insults on the United States and Europe. At the same time, however, NATO is capable of sending a warning or two to Moscow. Perhaps a ritual exchange of insults can relax the relationship.
The German government is especially keen on reviving the NATO-Russia Council. However, it is a conversation with a partner who holds his hands firmly over his ears. Putin does not want to listen, and only wants to recite his own arguments loudly. The West, in turn, should remind him that he was the one who terminated the partnership again. The invasion of Crimea, support for the eastern Ukrainian rebels, the undermining of the Minsk Agreement and activities in Syria show where and how the Kremlin leader wants to enforce his power. And because he gives no insight into his strategies and ultimate goals, one hopes in vain for transparency and reliability.
Diplomats believe that meaningless conversation is worthwhile because you can always make use of the situation in an emergency. As such, it seems like a good idea to keep the NATO-Russia Council alive. On the other hand, Russia threatens to make it a mere propaganda vehicle: NATO should not be manipulated indefinitely. It must always make it clear that a minimum level of listening and cooperation is necessary so that such discussions do not degenerate into an absurd attempt at dialogue among the deaf and dumb.
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