On April 20, 2016, the NATO-Russia Council’s first meeting in almost two years took place in Brussels, Belgium. The last time the NRC met was in June 2014. Following the Ukrainian crisis and the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia was suspended; however, some channels of communication remained open, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov several times during the past two years. Following the NRC meeting, Stoltenberg said that NATO and Russia continue to have “profound and persistent disagreements.”
All the heads of missions of the 28 NATO member states participated in the meeting, which went nearly two hours longer than planned. Russia was represented by its Permanent Representative to NATO, Ambassador Alexander Grushko.
Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO: “Without Russia, It Is Impossible To Solve Any International Problem”
Even though, according to Permanent Representative to NATO Grushko, NATO members have no intention of cooperating with Russia, he asserts that the fact that the NATO-Russia Council meeting took place attests to the failure of the West’s policy to isolate Russia. He told Russia’s Rossiya 1 TV: “I think that this is recognition that the project dubbed ‘isolation of Russia’ [has] failed. It is evident that without Russia it is impossible to solve or regulate any international problem.” Underscoring that the NATO countries realize that they can’t “keep isolating themselves from real processes in the sphere of security,” Grushko added that Russia is not against holding a new meeting in the future, as long as there will be a “real agenda.”
The Russian news agency TASS reported that Grushko said that Russia is not interested in returning to previous formats and wants to understand how NATO will be building its security plans in Europe, since today NATO’s words and actions are contradictory: it makes declarations about opposing a new Cold War while at the same time building a military presence in Eastern Europe and along Russian borders. The question – says Grushko– is whether NATO has already embarked upon the traditional anti-Russian course, dominated by the American narrative.
Previously, on March 30, Grushko said that Russia will not passively observe the U.S. military buildup in Europe and will provide an “asymmetrical” response. “We are not passive observers, we consistently take all the military measures we consider necessary in order to counterbalance this reinforced presence that is not justified by anything. Certainly, we’ll respond totally asymmetrically,” Grushko said to Russian television channel Rossiya 24. Grushko further stressed that NATO’s continuing expansion eastward will raise the tension between the West and Russia to an unimaginable level: “As of the present day, assessing as a whole what the U.S. and NATO are doing, the point at issue is a substantial change for the worse in the security situation. One can’t imagine a situation in which those countries [Ukraine and Georgia] continue to cherish the hope of joining NATO and the alliance really plans to admit them, as this would cause the situation to explode and bring Europe to the brink of a crisis, whose size and scale can’t be imagined today.”
Russian Presidential Press Secretary: NATO Retained Its Original Purpose – To Deter Russia
Speaking about the worsening of relations between Russia and NATO, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told the Russia Today television channel that Russia will not tolerate any attempts to dictate to it how it should behave, and that it will retaliate against any military advances of NATO member states close to Russia’s borders, such as the stationing of a missile defense system, “with our military and technical capabilities.” Antonov also stated that Russia is opposed to entering an arms race, “no matter who is trying to impose one on us,” adding that restoring military cooperation with NATO would only be possible based on the principles of “equality, dialogue, mutual respect, and acknowledgement of each other’s interests.”
In an interview released the day before the meeting, Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia-NATO relations are characterized by total mistrust and that this would be difficult to overcome. According to Peskov, the Russia-NATO dialogue “will not be an easy one, because confidence is destroyed very quickly, but is restored much more slowly and this requires considerably greater efforts.” Peskov also reiterated that NATO military buildup near Russia’s borders poses a “threat to its national security.” He said: “We have recorded very unfriendly actions of the Alliance in terms of its military buildup on our borders; we believe that NATO’s actions pose a threat to Russia’s national interests and national security… Moreover, we have to state that the recent actions of the Alliance have once again confirmed that NATO has failed to adapt to modern conditions and retained its original purpose – to deter the Russian Federation and be in confrontation with the Russian Federation.”