As you can see in the video of his press conference, after Afghanistan, Rasmussen identified NATO-Russian relations as his second priority. He began by focusing on the positives.
“I believe that, during my term as NATO SG, we should develop a true strategic partnership with Russia. We should extend practical cooperation in areas where we share security interests. There is clearly scope for us to work together, on counter-terrorism, on Afghanistan, on piracy, on non-proliferation, and many other areas as well.”
Rasmussen also recognized the negatives. “It is obvious that there will be fundamental issues on which we disagree. We have to insist, for example, that Russia fully complies with its international obligations, including respecting the territorial integrity and political freedom of its neighbours.”
Such compliance would require Russia to remove its military forces from South Ossetia/Abkhazia, stop launching cyber attacks against NATO members, and give up using economic warfare against its energy dependent neighbors. Perhaps in recognition of the improbability of such compliance from Moscow, Rasmussen reveals what may be NATO’s priorities. “But we cannot let those areas of disagreement poison the whole relationship.”
Is the new Secretary General of NATO saying that these issues are important, but they must take a back seat to keeping Russia engaged with the West? What about the warning from Central and Eastern European leaders that, “Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods?” Rasmussen’s emphasis on Russia also fails address the concerns of these leaders that, “there is also nervousness in our capitals. We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia.”
In his statements today, NATO’s new Secretary General said that Russia was his priority, as well as “NATO’s relationship with the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative countries.” But no mention was made of the main security concerns of NATO’s eastern members. When do their issues become a high enough priority for the alliance?
Today was only his first full day as leader of NATO and it remains to be seen in which direction Rasmussen will take the alliance. But according to the Guardian, it appears Rasmussen will continue to make getting along with Moscow more of a priority, than addressing fears in Warsaw and Tallinn. “Senior Nato officials said Rasmussen was sending a conciliatory signal to the Kremlin and also fishing for an invitation to Moscow to discuss a common agenda that could include counter-terrorism programmes, Afghanistan, nuclear non-proliferation, and action to curb piracy.”