Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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Financial Times (UK)
26 November 2001
Comrades - but not yet in arms

A decade after the end of the cold war, there is still something reassuring about the sight of the Nato secretary general engaged in friendly talks at the Kremlin.

Lord Robertson and Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, agreed on Friday that Russian membership of the organisation was out for the foreseeable future. But they also rightly decided that the means must be found to give Moscow a permanent tie with the alliance.

The tentative rapprochement between Russia and the west makes the world safer. So do attempts to cement the relationship by linking Russia with Nato.

One option, proposed by the UK, is for Russia to have an equal voice with the 19 alliance members on certain political issues - including the fight against terrorism, nuclear proliferation and Balkan peacekeeping. But on core military questions, Nato would continue to decide first and consult Russia afterwards.

Difficulties remain. The division between political and military could be unclear. Key matters will be discussed, as now, by the US and its closest allies before being put to the rest of Nato. Disputes are inevitable.

But the initiative is worth pursuing. Russia wants, above all, acknowledgement of its great power status. A seat at the Nato table could provide that and strengthen Mr Putin's hand in dealing with those of his generals who are unfriendly to Nato.

For the west, the main potential gain is Moscow's support on issues such as the war against terrorism. Russia's military contribution may be modest. But it retains political clout in some regions including central Asia.

However, partnership with Russia must not be unconditional. First, Nato must be free to decide on the extent of its planned enlargement, including the Baltic states.

Second, Nato members in the former Soviet bloc must be re-assured that the planned ties with Moscow would not undermine their security. History has taught these countries to treat Russia with suspicion. Third, the US and Russia should speed up planned nuclear arms cuts. Both still have far more warheads than required for mutually assured destruction.

Fourth, Russia should accelerate military reforms. Replacing the current ramshackle army with a smaller, more professional force would enhance not only Russia's security but also the world's.

Last, the co-operation with Nato should be based on the fundamental democratic values on which the alliance was founded. Russia should not expect an ever-warmer welcome at Nato unless it does more to protect human rights, not least in Chechnya.

Fighting terrorists is one thing. Torturing and executing prisoners is quite another.

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