NATO-Russian Relations Improve, but Chechnya Raises Concern
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 1999 Relations between NATO and Russia, strained during Operation Allied Force, have since improved, according to U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark.
"Some of the sting has been taken out of the effects of the air campaign," Clark said.
NATO's supreme allied commander Europe said the Russians have returned to liaison teams at SHAPE headquarters in Mons, Belgium. NATO-Russian consultations also have resumed at NATO's Permanent Joint Council and at the military representative and ambassadorial levels in Brussels, he said.
"I hope that we can build on this dialogue at all levels and maintain the very effective and cordial relationships that the soldiers on the ground have established," Clark said.
Relations are strong between NATO and Russian troops on the ground in Bosnia and Kosovo, Clark noted. "The relationships, soldier to soldier, unit to unit, are very good," he said. "There's effective teamwork and we've been impressed by the professionalism of the Russian soldiers."
While relations are warming on one front, they're getting a bit chilly regarding Russian military action in Chechnya, a breakaway Russian province in the Caucasus. European leaders say Russia must halt its offensive against Chechnya or face possible economic sanctions.
President Clinton addressed the issue at a meeting of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe in Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 18. "I think I speak for everyone here when we say we want Russia to overcome the scourge of terrorism and lawlessness. We believe Russia has not only the right, but the obligation, to defend its territorial integrity. We want to see Russia a stable, prosperous, strong democracy with secure borders, strong defenses, and a leading voice in world affairs."
Clinton said most critics of the Russian policies "deplore Chechen violence and terrorism and extremism and they support the objectives of Russia -- to preserve its territorial integrity, and to put down the violence and the terrorism.
"What they fear is that the means Russia has chosen will undermine its ends -- that if attacks on civilians continue, the extremism Russia is trying to combat will only intensify, and the sovereignty Russia rightly is defending will be more and more rejected by ordinary Chechens who are not part of the terror or the resistance," he said.
Russian claims that their military action against Chechnya is nothing more than what NATO did in Kosovo are wrong, Clark told Pentagon reporters. "I think they're doing in Chechnya what Milosevic tried to do in Kosovo," he declared.
NATO leaders put pilots at greater risk and inhibited the use of air power to prevent collateral damage during Operation Allied Force, Clark said. The Russians, on the other hand, with their unrestricted use of firepower and apparent actions against civilian targets in Chechnya, aren't displaying similar inhibitions, he noted.
"In fact, I see the opposite in the case of the Russian threats that have been given against these urban areas, in the use of their weapons, and in the way they have generally followed (through) in the campaign."
Asked how NATO allies will cope with future regional crisis, Clark pointed out that European nations are determined to pick up a greater share of the defense burden. He said NATO's Defense Capabilities Initiative is focused on 58 areas where allied forces must improve their capabilities to meet the requirements of the NATO Strategic Concept approved at the Washington Summit in April 1999.
"I think if we follow through on this DCI program to improve capabilities, we'll have the kind of rapid reaction force capabilities that are required," the commander concluded.