Russia: A Complicated Partnership
NATO’s relationship with Russia is a complicated partnership with many facets.
NATO’s relationship with Russia is a complicated partnership with many facets. Building that relationship has taken time and effort from both parties and I am encouraged to see progress in many areas since the Lisbon Summit in 2010. At that summit NATO's 28 heads of state approved a Strategic Concept, which states quite clearly, "We want to see a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia, and we will act accordingly, with the expectation of reciprocity from Russia."

NATO and Russian Federation in counter piracy exercise at sea. An example of NATO Russia cooperation at sea as the Italian Ship San Marco, the NATO flag ship to Operation Ocean Shield, maneuvers on the port (left) side of the Russian Federation ship Severromorsk during a joint counter piracy exercise that took place on 26 Feb in the Gulf of Aden. (Photo courtesy: Operation Ocean Shield)
The good news is that over the past several years, we have created several zones of cooperation with the Russia that have produced reasonably good results. They include:

- Counter piracy operations, where Russian ships routinely operate in the same waters as NATO warships. While efforts are only loosely coordinated, the results are striking: piracy has declined over 70% over the past year, and not a single ship has been hijacked since May of 2012. The number of ships and mariners held hostage has plummeted. Overall, this is a very effective operation.

- Afghanistan, where Russia has made contributions to the Afghan Security Forces of small arms and ammunition. They have also sold MI-17 helicopters and provided maintenance training for the nascent Afghan Air Force. And perhaps most importantly, the Russians have been helpful with logistics, including allowing a transit arrangement that helps sustain the ISAF mission and facilitates redeployment.

- Military exchanges and training exercise have also been reasonably successful. Russian soldiers, sailors, and airmen have been in exercises with U.S. and NATO nations in accordance with various work plans. These exchanges -- including port calls in Russia by warships -- have been well received by both militaries. I have personally been to Moscow and various Russian military facilities around the country on several occasions and always received a warm welcome, frank conversations, and productive engagements -- as has the NATO Secretary General.
SACEUR, Admiral James Stavridis during wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow 10 October 2011. (NATO Photo by: Sgt Peter Buitenhuis)

- In the High North / Arctic region, we all agree that this area of the world must remain a zone of cooperation, and concur that the Arctic Council -- with the U.S., Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Iceland, and several other key nations -- is the best forum for discussions.

- Counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics are two other areas where we have reasonable cooperation and a shared sense of the challenges. As the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia approach, we are offering assistance and information sharing via a variety of channels, and in the counter-narcotics world we work together on the flow of heroin from Afghanistan -- a high priority for Russia.

Overall, we enjoy cooperation and some level of partnership in a variety of important areas.
On the other hand, there are clearly challenges in the relationship.

We have an ongoing disagreement over Russian forces stationed in Georgia, as well as missile defence. Russia sees the NATO missile defence system as posing a threat to their strategic inter-continental ballistic missile force. We strongly disagree, and feel that the system is clearly designed to protect populations against Iran, Syria and other ballistic-missile capable nations that threaten the European continent.

Russia has been extremely critical of NATO's role in Libya. We maintain that we operated under the UN Security Council mandate to establish a no-fly zone, provide an arms embargo, and protect the people of Libya from attacks. Our efforts in that regard were well within the bounds of the UNSCR mandate and the norms of international law. Russia sees this differently, and whenever I discuss this with Russian interlocutors we find little room for agreement. This tends to create a differing set of views about the dangerous situation in Syria as well.

A recent quote by my friend Ambassador Alexander Grushko, Russia's representative to NATO, gives a sense of the tension:

"These relations can only develop in the right direction if NATO observes the standards of international law. We can see that NATO's military infrastructure is coming closer to Russia's borders, and we have to take this factor into account in our defence planning."

Admiral James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander Europe during an office call in his office with Ambassador Alexander Grushko, on 29 January 2013.(NATO picture by Ger. Army Sgt. Emily Langer)
The NATO Strategic Concept sums it up well:

"Notwithstanding differences on particular issues, we remain convinced that the security of NATO and Russia is intertwined and that a strong and constructive partnership based on mutual confidence, transparency, and predictability can best serve our security.

I think we can continue to build on the areas of cooperation outlined above, but we cannot wish away the tensions and disagreements in the relationship. No one wants to stumble backwards toward the Cold War, so the best course for the future is open discussion, frank airing of disagreements, and hopefully seeking to build the "true strategic partnership" set out in the NATO strategic concept.
 
Clearly, we have some work to do.
 
Best,

Jim
Admiral, USN
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, US European Command
"Stronger Together"
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