Reassuring the Baltic States

Russia’s actions in Ukraine have had a direct impact on the security perceptions of the Baltic States. Baltic leaders see Russia’s intervention in Ukraine as a potentially serious precedent for future Russian actions against the Baltic States. Russia’s statements declaring that it will protect ethnic Russians living outside the Russian Federation are of particular concern, given the large ethnic Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia. Russian naval maneuvers in the Baltic Sea that took place at the time of Russia’s military intervention in Crimea were seen by regional leaders as an attempt to put pressure on the Baltic States. Furthermore, Lithuanian officials have accused Russian naval ships of harassing Lithuanian civilian vessels in Lithuanian territorial waters in conjunction with a Russian naval exercise held in May 2014. A Lithuanian fishing vessel was seized by Russian border guard vessels in international waters near Kaliningrad in September 2014.

Public sentiment in the Baltic States is strongly anti-Russian in normal times, and has been exacerbated by Russian actions in Ukraine. The public and most commentators are convinced that Russian leaders would like to restore the territory lost in 1991 and that they still consider the Baltic States to be part of Russia’s sphere of interest. Repeated Russian efforts, both overt and covert, to become involved in Baltic domestic politics have further encouraged anti-Russian and nationalist attitudes.

In response, Baltic leaders have asked for and received assurances of an increased NATO presence in their region. Notably, to this end, President Obama has recently (3 September 2014) pledged in Estonia absolute non-discrimination in NATO collective defense (Article 5) guarantees. The NATO nations have pledged additional presence in the form of rapid rotation of troops from NATO states (including the United States) through Poland and the Baltic States, where they will participate in regular training and exercises but also provide “persistent” presence as part of the European Reassurance Initiative. Maritime plans include the deployment of a standing mine countermeasures group, increased Baltic state participation in regular naval exercises, and planning for new naval exercises in the Baltic Sea.

While Baltic States’ concerns about Russian interference in the region are well placed, the likeliest form of threat is increased interference in Baltic internal political affairs or covert actions, rather than direct military action. Russia has a track record of promoting domestic instability in the Baltic, including encouraging violence during incidents such as the Bronze Soldier protests in Tallinn in 2007 and the annual protests on Latvian Legion Day. Russian intelligence personnel are suspected of involvement in pro-Russian political parties and movements in all three states. Russia may seek to use its influence and agents in the Baltic States to destabilize domestic politics. These scenarios could morph into an armed conflict over time.

Baltic defense planners describe the range of potential Russian actions in their region to include issuing Russian passports to ethnic Russians living in the region, backing referendums on the status of the Russian language in the Baltic States, and attempting to influence Russians living in the region to support a scenario similar to the one taking place in eastern Ukraine. Ethnic-based conflict is a possibility, given the lagging integration of ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking populations in the region. Although recent statements by Russian leaders about defending ethnic Russians abroad are likely to feed distrust of local Russian populations, discrimination against these populations will only serve to increase their resentment and make them more susceptible to the Russian government’s influence.

Covert actions, such as the recent kidnapping of an Estonian security officer at a border post, are also seen as likely to continue. Latvia and Estonia, with their large ethnic Russian populations, are seen as more vulnerable than Lithuania in this regard.

Baltic defense planners fear that these kinds of actions could lead to Russian sponsorship of an insurgency in Latvia or Estonia that will be judged by NATO leaders to fall short of a direct military attack, and thus leave the Baltic States to their own devices in dealing with a Russian-sponsored insurgency. While statements made by President Obama during his visit to Tallinn and by NATO leaders at the recent summit in Wales have made clear that NATO will defend the Baltic States from direct attacks, they have not indicated how the alliance would respond to domestic instability or covert actions.

Baltic planners believe that a direct Russian military intervention is highly unlikely, both because of the NATO security guarantee and because Russian military planning documents de-emphasize the importance of the region for the Russian military. This is especially the case in the maritime realm, where the Black Sea and Pacific Fleets remain the primary focus of Russian naval development. Official Russian military journals and publications argue that the primary purpose of the Baltic Fleet is to serve as a location for new ships and submarines to be tested after launch and as a training area for new sailors and officers.

Despite President Obama’s recent statements, Baltic leaders remain sensitive to the possibility of abandonment by the NATO Nations given the lack of clarity on triggering conditions for Article 5, and the extent of such a response should it occur. Statements in the regional press suggest, while the symbolic significance of the president’s visit is well received, there is interest in more tangible expressions of solidarity, e.g., the deployment of military forces to bolster local defenses.

The Baltic States’ concerns about Russian interference in the region are well placed. The European Reassurance Initiative provides an important set of signals that the United States and NATO are serious about ensuring Baltic security and will defend these countries from direct Russian aggression.

These steps need to be combined with reassurance from political leaders at the highest levels that NATO will also provide support in the event that a Russian-sponsored insurgency is organized on part of the Baltic States’ territory. Since Baltic State leaders and security officials consider Russian efforts to destabilize these countries from within far more likely than a direct military intervention, such reassurance will do much more for assuaging Baltic security fears than the augmentation of military forces in the region.

At the same time, Baltic leaders need to know that the integration of ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking populations in their countries must continue. Although recent statements by Russian leaders about defending ethnic Russians abroad are likely to feed distrust of local Russian populations, discrimination against these populations will only serve to increase resentment and make these populations more susceptible to Russian government influence. EU and OSCE officials need to make sure that integration programs continue and that local Russians are treated as full and equal citizens throughout the Baltic States.

Russian reactions to the NATO summit

Here’s a preview of my new post at War on the Rocks: The NATO summit in Wales was treated in Russia with a great deal of equanimity. The official reaction was quite predictable, with the Foreign Ministry putting out a statement that claimed that interfering in the affairs of foreign states was part of NATO’s “genetic code” and flowed directly from the organization’s desperate search for a role in the global security system after the end of the Cold War. The ministry went on to claim that NATO policy is dictated by hawks in Europe and the United States who have been “striving for military domination in Europe.” Moreover, the statement claimed, these hawks have shown themselves willing to prevent the emergence of a common Euro-Atlantic security system and sacrifice international efforts to counter real threats such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and WMD proliferation in order to achieve this end.

The Foreign Ministry argued that the build-up of NATO presence near Russia’s borders is part of a long-nurtured plan to strengthen the alliance’s forces in the east to counter Russia, with the Ukraine crisis serving as an excuse to begin its implementation. The statement continued, insisting that these plans, together with announced plans for joint exercises with Ukrainian forces, will escalate tensions in the region and forestall progress toward a peaceful settlement in Ukraine. The head of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, Alexei Pushkov, stated that the buildup of NATO rapid reaction forces in Poland and the Baltic States is a hostile act towards Russia.

Read the rest of the post at War on the Rocks.

How not to do maps of military strength

Der Spiegel produced the following map, comparing Russian and eastern NATO states’ military strength. This is a great example of what NOT to do in producing such maps, unless your main goal is to incite worry or spread misinformation.

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The map vastly exaggerates Russian troop strength, in three different ways. First, the numbers are just wrong. Russia has at most 750,000 men under arms across all services. This includes cadets, trainees, etc. Second, the numbers include all of Russia’s troops, including those located in the Far East, Central Asia, and other parts of the country quite distant from Europe and Ukraine. Third, nothing is said about the quality of troops and equipment. How many of those tanks and airplanes are actually combat-ready? Certainly a higher percentage than a few years ago, but still far from all. Now, it may be that this point also applies to Central European forces. But it would still be good to compare the numbers that could actually be brought to bear in a conflict, rather than some kind of abstract top-line number that has nothing to do with actual force dispositions or capabilities.

Compare, for example, to the following map, produced by Dmitry Tymchuk almost three weeks ago, when concerns about a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine were quite high.

This map shows the relevant number of forces that can be brought to bear against Ukraine. It doesn’t directly address the combat-readiness question regarding individual equipment, except through the use of the “up to X” language for all equipment and personnel. But at least it is clear regarding the maximum number of troops that could be involved. More could of course be brought in from other military districts in a lengthy conflict, but such a conflict would also allow for the reinforcement of central European states from Western Europe and the United States.

Note that the total troop strength of relevant Russian forces is 80,000. Less than 1/10 of the number cited by Der Spiegel. Aircraft, tanks, and heavy artillery are also at around 10 percent of the der Spiegel numbers. Russia’s conventional military is much stronger than the Ukrainian army, but it is no match for NATO’s forces in Europe.

 

Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 3: defense industrial cooperation and future prospects)

Defense Industrial Cooperation (continued)

Italy: The Russian military has recently completed several deals with Italy. The most significant of these is the establishment of a joint venture to built IVECO’s M65 Lynx light multirole vehicles (LMVs). The deal, estimated to be worth around one billion euros, will allow Russia to assemble these Italian vehicles at the Kamaz plant in Tatarstan. The license will allow the manufacture of 1775 of these LMVs from 2011 to 2016. While initially the plant will simply do the final assembly, the goal is eventually use fifty percent Russian components in the manufacturing process. The Russian military has also expressed an interest in purchasing Freccia armored vehicles and Centauro wheeled tanks. Two of each type of vehicle are likely to be transferred to Russia sometime this year for testing purposes.

The deal to build Italian LMVs in Russia generated significant opposition among segments of the Russian military and also in its defense industry, which argued that it was taking business away from the Russian-designed GAZ Tigr. The military responded that the Tigr did not fully meet its requirements and would have to be significantly upgraded.

Israel: The Russian military has also concluded several deals to purchase Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel. An initial $53 million deal was signed in 2009. Through this deal, Russia received two Bird Eye 400 systems worth 4 million dollars, eight I View MK150 tactical UAVs worth 37 million dollars, and two Searcher Mk II multi-mission UAVs worth 12 million dollars. In July 2010, the two sides agreed to a deal for an additional 36 Israeli UAVs, worth $100 million. In October 2010, Russia’s Oboronprom and Israel Aerospace Industries agreed to a three-year, $400 million contract that will allow the Russian company to assemble UAVs from Israeli components. As part of the deals, Israel has begun training 50 Russian UAV pilots at an Israeli base. Russian and Israeli negotiators are currently discussing the possibility of forming a joint venture to build more UAVs for the Russian military, which estimates it will need 100 or more UAVs to ensure effective battlefield reconnaissance.

Reports published by Wikileaks indicate that Russia had initially sought to purchase more advanced Israeli UAVs, including the Heron 1, in a deal worth a total of $1 billion dollars. Israeli defense officials eventually rejected this deal because of concerns that the technology may end up in Chinese hands.

Russia has focused on acquiring Israeli UAV technology because of the demonstrated inability of its domestic defense industry to overcome problems with domestic UAVs. For example, the Tipchak system is reported to have a low maximum altitude and a distinct acoustic signature that is audible from long distances, which together combine to make it extremely vulnerable to attack from the ground. A new generation system will not be available for at least three years. Furthermore, Russian defense industry has had particular problems producing miniaturized and lightweight components, which are necessary in UAV payloads, and reliable electronics, which are needed for UAV navigation and targeting. After repeated failures of domestic UAVs, the Russian military has decided that foreign assistance was essential for further progress in developing domestic UAV production capabilities.

Sales and joint projects: Until recently, Russian military sales to NATO countries have been largely limited to the maintenance and modernization of armaments owned by former Warsaw Pact states that have become NATO members over the last decade. In addition, some of these countries have received Russian military hardware in exchange for the forgiveness of Soviet-era debt. In this context, Hungary received fighter airplanes and armored personnel carriers, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic received various aircraft and helicopters. Greece is the only NATO state that regularly buys Russian military equipment. In recent years, this has included various types of missiles, guided munitions, and small landing ships, as well as S-300 air defense systems originally intended for Cyprus. Other NATO states have made occasional deals in recent years, including the purchase of 800 Kornet anti-tank missiles by Turkey, Igla portable surface-to-air missiles by Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK, and Mi-17 helicopters by Poland and Latvia. In addition, NATO states have joined together since 2006 to lease up to 6 An-124 transport aircraft on a charter basis. Finally, the United States and the United Arab Emirates have in recent years bought a total of 35 Mi-17 transport helicopters for transfer to Afghanistan, including 21 bought by the U.S. in April 2011 for $370 million.

Russia has just begun some joint research and development projects with Western defense industrial companies, including plans for naval cooperation with Thales and general defense cooperation with EADS and DCN. One possibility for cooperation with NATO is the development of a heavy tactical transport helicopter, using the existing Russian Mi-26 helicopter as a base. For the moment, none of these potential cooperative ventures have advanced beyond the discussion stage.

Future Prospects

NATO-Russia cooperation is gradually returning to a trajectory of broadening and deepening, which it was on prior to the deep freeze brought on by the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Cooperation is accelerating in all three major areas: training, operations, and procurement. Ventures thought impossible just a year ago, such as a joint European missile defense system, joint operations in Afghanistan, and joint development of military hardware, are all on the horizon. As with past efforts at cooperation, the current rapprochement is still fragile and could be easily derailed by changes in the political atmosphere in Russia or the United States. But for now, the signs are more hopeful than they have been in almost a decade.

 

Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 2: Defense industrial cooperation with France)

Defense Industrial Cooperation

As Russian military leaders have grown frustrated with the failures of their country’s domestic defense industry, they have become increasingly willing to procure military equipment from NATO countries and to engage in joint military industrial projects with them.

France: In recent years, the Russian military has considered a number of purchases from NATO countries. The most extensive cooperation has been with France. The recent deal for the Mistral amphibious assault ship is the most notable Russian military purchase from abroad in recent history. While the final contract has not yet been signed, the rough outlines of the likely deal are well known. Russia is set to purchase two Mistral-class ships, to be built in France at a total cost of approximately 980 million euros. The two sides have not yet agreed on whether Russia would be charged an additional 170 million euros for logistics and crew training expenses, or if those items would be included in the construction price. In addition, Russia would pay 90 million Euros for construction licenses and technical documentation that would allow two more Mistral ships to be built in Russia.

In addition to the ships themselves, Russia is going to receive some of the advanced technology that is used on the French versions of these ships. This will include the SENIT-9 combat information system, but without license rights and without the Link 11 and Link 16 NATO communications systems. The transfer of NATO communications systems would require the unanimous consent of all NATO members. Therefore, even though the request is currently under consideration at NATO HQ, it will be rejected. It is certain to be opposed by the Baltic states, and likely to be opposed by a number of other NATO countries including the United States. It is interesting to note that Russia’s request to receive these systems was justified by its desire to participate in joint missions with NATO navies. The lack of license rights means that Russia will not be able to use the SENIT-9 technology on other ships, nor will it be able to use the knowledge acquired by building such systems to improve its own ability to manufacture advanced combat information systems.

The SENIT-9 systems used on the French Mistral-class ships are derived from the US Navy’s Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) and are based on the tri-dimensional MRR3D-NG multi-role radar, built by Thales, which operates on the C Band and incorporates IFF capabilities. The French version can be connected to Link 11, Link 16, and Link 22 NATO communications systems. The purpose of the system is to centralize all data from the ship’s sensors in the ship’s command center. Russian military officials argue that having these systems on board will allow them to turn their Mistrals into command ships that will be capable of providing fire control for various forces in the open seas, including dividing targets among surface ships, submarines and aviation.

Reports in French newspapers indicate that the Thales MRR-3D-NG radar, as well as a Racal-Decca helicopter control radar, will also be included as part of the deal. It seems very unlikely that the Russian Mistrals will be equipped to use French communications systems, based on French satellites SYRACUSE 3-A and SYRACUSE 3-B. These satellites provide 45% of the Super High Frequency secured communications of NATO. For Russia, it would make much more sense to equip the ships with communications systems that connect with their own satellites. Otherwise, the ships would not be able to communicate with other Russian ships.

While the reason for the Russian purchase of these ships has been the subject of extensive debate in Western and Russian sources, a consensus has recently emerged on this question. The main purpose of the ships will be to serve as command and control vessels. The first two ships will go to the Pacific Fleet as part of a significant upgrade that will turn that fleet into the most capable of Russia’s four fleets. The ships’ second task will be to serve as helicopter carriers. They will be capable of carrying either Ka-52 attack helicopters or Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopters. While the ships are obviously capable of carrying out amphibious landing operations, this will be a lesser task for them.

Finally, the Mistral ships are also being purchased with the goal of revitalizing Russia’s declining shipbuilding industry. The third and fourth ships will be built at shipyards in St. Petersburg, which will be reconstructed for the purpose, most likely with French assistance. The goal is to be able to use the experience of building ships to French standards to improve indigenous military shipbuilding capabilities.

While the Mistral deal has received the most attention, Russian-French military cooperation actually began several years ago. In 2007, Russia bought French aircraft targeting containers from Sagem and thermal imaging equipment from Thales. One hundred units of the latter were installed on Russian T-90M tanks. Subsequently, an agreement was signed in 2010 to manufacture thermal imagers under license at a Russian plant in Vologda. At the same time, Russia bought some French communications equipment to test the possibility of integrating this equipment into its tanks and armored personnel carriers. The total value of the 2010 deal was estimated at 300 million Euros. French companies had been installing this equipment for years on Russian tanks and aircraft sold abroad, including Su-30MKI aircraft sold to India, MiG-29s sold to Algeria, T-80U tanks sold to Cyprus, T-90S tanks sold to India, and BMP-3 armored personnel carriers sold to the United Arab Emirates.

The Russian military is negotiating with French companies for further items, including Sagem’s Sigma 30 artillery navigation equipment and its infantry integrated equipment and communications units (FELIN). The FELIN units include a set of navigation tools, secure radio communications equipment, computer equipment, GPS receivers, helmet sights for individual small arms and integrated electronic targeting devices. A limited number of these may be purchased for Military Intelligence Directorate special forces units. In February, First Deputy Defense Minister Popovkin announced that the Russian military would like to have a Russian analog of the FELIN equipment designed in the next decade. The Sigma 30 units would be used to modernize Russian Grad and Smerch multiple rocket launchers. They are already used for this purpose in other countries, such as Poland.

Recently, the Russian Center for the Analysis of the World Arms Trade announced that the Russian border troops were negotiating with the French company Panhard for the acquisition of 500 VBL light armored vehicles for $260 million.

Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 1: training and operations)

A few months ago, I started writing articles for the English-language version of the French publication DSI: Defense & Securite Internationale. Unfortunately, that publication has now been suspended. I’m going to put a couple of the pieces I did for them here, including some that were never published. They’re kind of long, so I’m going to break them up into parts. The first is on Russian cooperation with NATO and was written about six months ago. Today’s installment will cover joint training and operations, while subsequent parts will deal with defense industrial cooperation. I’ll be traveling over the next week, so it seems like a good time to put this up. I’ll complete the update on Russian naval construction in a week or so, after I return.

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Moscow’s cooperation with NATO and its member states is accelerating, as the Russian government and military adjust their threat assessments to focus more on Russia’s unstable southern neighbors and on China. In recent years, Russia and NATO states have conducted joint anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. They have also reached agreements for extensive intelligence-sharing in the area of counter-terrorism. Russia has played a critical role in NATO operations in Afghanistan by allowing for the transit of both lethal and non-lethal cargoes to the region by both land and air routes. And Russian procurement of Western military equipment may gradually transition into joint research and development.

Joint Training

Through the mechanism of the NATO-Russia Council, the two sides have established several joint training initiatives and conducted a number of joint exercises. One of the earliest forms of cooperation has involved the establishment in 2002 of the Russia-NATO Center for Social Adaptation, with seven branch offices, which retrained more than 2000 former Russian military officers for civilian life. Currently active training projects include Russian participation in NATO exercises such as Combined Endeavor and Steadfast Joist. The Russian military also participates in multilateral and bilateral exercises with NATO member states, including naval exercises such as FRUKUS and BALTOPS. Russia and Italy are currently planning to hold naval and army exercises sometime in 2011.

Russia and NATO states have also conducted joint exercises on emergency civil response to terrorist acts and natural catastrophes. NATO forces participated in such exercises in Russia in 2002 and 2004, while Russian forces participated in NATO exercises in Italy in 2006 and Norway in 2009. Future joint emergency response exercises are planned.

Cooperation is gradually developing in the area of missile defense, where joint table-top theater missile defense exercises have taken place over the last decade in the United States, the Netherlands, and Russia. Although cooperation in this area was halted in 2008, it will be resumed in early 2012. The goal of these exercises is to develop an integrated approach to European missile defense, with both sides discussing the possibility of a Europe-wide missile defense system. This discussion reached the ministerial level at the April 2011 NATO summit in Berlin.

Finally, NATO and Russia have a long history of conducting joint maritime search and rescue exercises, including Sorbet Royal in 2005 and Bold Monarch in 2008. A Russian Black Sea Fleet submarine may participate in Bold Monarch 2011, which is being billed as the world’s largest submarine escape and rescue training event.

Operational Cooperation

Cooperation between Russia and NATO and its member states has increasingly moved beyond just training. In recent years, Russia has cooperated in a number of joint military and security operations with NATO and its member states. Most significantly, these include naval anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Russian assistance to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. In addition, Russia routinely works with NATO states on counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics operations in Europe and Eurasia.

Since 2008, the Russian navy has had a nearly constant presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Ships from three of the four major Russian fleets have participated in anti-piracy operations in the region, though in recent years the operation has been assigned to the Pacific Fleet. While the NATO anti-piracy operation in the region was only launched in late 2010, the area has been the site of the most significant international naval cooperation in the world in the last decade. International efforts have been coordinated through Combined Task Force 151 and through the European Union’s Operation Atalanta. While Russian ships have not formally joined any of these operations, they have coordinated their efforts in the region with those of the other participating states. In fact, when NATO froze cooperation with Russia in the aftermath of the Georgia war, cooperation between Russian and NATO member state naval units in the Gulf of Aden remained virtually the only avenue for military communication between Russia and NATO member states. As cooperation through other channels gradually resumed over the next year, anti-piracy operations remained a principal area of joint concern for Russia and NATO member states.

Since the spring of 2009, Russia has allowed the United States and NATO to transport goods across its territory in order to supply their operations in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Russia has allowed the transport of lethal cargo and military personnel via overflights of Russian territory. While this route was initially designed to serve as an alternative to the previously established route via Pakistan because of that country’s growing instability, it has since become critical to the NATO operation in Afghanistan. Fifty percent of all non-lethal goods destined for Afghanistan are now being transported via the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) and U.S. military planners hope to increase that ratio to 75 percent over the next year. While not all NDN shipments go through Russia, the majority do. Furthermore, NATO has negotiated an agreement with Russia to allow the shipment of lethal goods and personnel across Russian territory by land.

Russia has also worked with NATO member states’ forces to train Afghan forces, particularly in counter-narcotics operations, and is also helping to rebuild infrastructure in Afghanistan. Russia-NATO cooperation in counter-narcotics is much deeper, with Russian law enforcement officials having now conducted joint operations with personnel from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency not just in Afghanistan, but also in St. Petersburg.

Russia and NATO states cooperate closely in the area of counter-terrorism, mostly through intelligence-sharing agreements. In addition, Russian ships have repeatedly participated in NATO’s Active Endeavor counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean Sea. While Russian participation was suspended after the 2008 war in Georgia, it seems likely that Russian ships will return in the fall of 2011.

 

Why NATO won’t recognize the CSTO

RIA-Novosti’s asked me for a comment on the likelihood of NATO establishing relations with CSTO. The following comment was published today on the Valdai Club website.

We should keep in mind that NATO isn’t really an organization in the way that we think about organizations. It’s primarily a collection of countries, each with its own foreign policy. And because it has a consensus principle in its decision-making, NATO can only take an action if none of the member countries object to a proposal. NATO operates by the silence procedure, whereby if no country objects to the wording of what the Secretary General offers as the consensus as he has heard it, they are deemed to have consented. If they object to wording, the discussion is reopened until they are satisfied.

In terms of setting up relations with another collective security organization such as CSTO, as far as I know NATO has pretty much never had relations with another such organization. Even back in the Cold War days, when CENTO and SEATO (the Southeast Asian and Central Treaty Organizations) existed, NATO didn’t really interact with them on an organization to organization basis.

So there are some inherent structural limitations on what NATO can do in terms of working with CSTO. NATO is focused on interaction with individual countries rather than with organizations. That’s the first and most important factor in limiting the possibilities for NATO-CSTO cooperation. There may be a greater chance of having individual NATO member countries working with CSTO, perhaps by participating in CSTO exercises, rather than having NATO as a body doing it. That’s not really the way NATO works in general. Many events that are seen in Russia as NATO events aren’t necessarily NATO events at all. For example, western reports on the recent Sea Breeze exercise in the Black Sea are very careful to describe it as either a U.S.-Ukraine exercise in which other countries participated or as a Partnership for Peace exercise. But it’s never described as a NATO exercise. Whereas reporting in Russia or China describes it as a NATO exercise, even though that is not the way the NATO member countries themselves see it.

A second reason is that NATO right now is mostly focused on internal issues. Since the end of the Cold War twenty years ago, NATO has been looking for a new purpose. One path that has been considered is to protect people in neighboring states against mass killings of civilians in internal conflict. This was its role in Kosovo in 1999 and more recently in Libya. The NATO countries have also added a counter-terrorism mission that has brought tens of thousands of its member countries’ soldiers to Afghanistan over the last decade. But there is still a lot of internal debate among NATO members about what its long term focus should be.  So I think rather than trying to focus on relations with other such organizations, the NATO countries are mostly focused on working out how its members will continue to make use of the existing NATO structure and procedures. So that’s a second limitation.

The third limitation may be relevant just for the United States, but because of the consensus principle NATO could not establish formal ties with CSTO without the U.S. being part of that consensus. There are still some parts of the U.S. security establishment, not so much in the current administration, but still important people in Washington who see CSTO as a potential way for Russia to extend its dominance over other former Soviet republics. And they don’t want to do anything to legitimize that. Again, I don’t see this as a policy of the current administration at all, but it’s something it has to take into account when it deals with Congress and with public perceptions of U.S. foreign policy. And since NATO-CSTO relations aren’t a high priority, the administration is not going to expend much political capital on this issue. They’d rather pick their battles with Congress on relations with Russia somewhere else, such as missile defense or last year’s New START treaty ratification.

So, those are the three key reasons why the establishment of a formal NATO-CSTO relationship is very unlikely. However, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that some NATO member countries could work with CSTO on particular issues. It is less likely that the United States would do this than some of the European counties given the political constraints discussed above, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. It’s certainly more likely than some kind of NATO-CSTO partnership.