On January 31, 2017, speaking about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s anti-terrorism capabilities, prominent Russian military analyst Alexander Perentzhiev said: “NATO at the moment is primarily an anti-Russian project.”
But Perentzhiev’s statement disregards NATO’s stated mission, strategic concept, and overall purpose. NATO’s strategic documents show that NATO’s purpose is to cultivate cooperation in an effort to promote peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.
Twelve nations signed the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 establishing NATO as a defensive alliance, saying that its member states “are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security.”
The first article of the treaty says that the members are to refrain “from the threat or use of force” in any manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.
NATO and Russia signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997, which states that Russia and the Alliance “will build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter, who served during the period when the founding act was signed, told Polygraph.info that that the purpose of the Alliance is to give member states a sense of security against any external aggression and “security uncertainty.”
“To see NATO as an anti-Russian project is to miss the point that it is designed to ’reduce insecurities‘ in general,” he said.
NATO is “open to working with and not against Russia, provided Russia acts in ways that are compatible with that objective,” Hunter said.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO and Russia made strides towards cooperation in the mid-1990s.
To a Polgraph.info email inquiry a NATO official wrote that “for more than two decades, NATO has strived to build a partnership with Russia, developing both dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest.”
After the signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995, Russian forces took part in a NATO-led stabilization force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Later, after initial differences with NATO, Russian forces were also integrated into the NATO-led peace keeping operation in Kosovo.
At NATO’s initiative, Moscow and Brussels in 1997 signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, which established the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council. In 2002, NATO upgraded this partnership to become the NATO-Russia Council.
While NATO has established a NATO-Ukraine Commission and a NATO-Georgia Commission, Russia is the only country, which enjoys such an elevated partnership with the Alliance.
But in recent years, relations deteriorated as Russia took an aggressive military stance.
In 2010, the Russian Military Doctrine named NATO as the number one “external military danger.”
While some signs of tensions between NATO and Russia appeared after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the confrontation intensified after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. At that time, NATO suspended all military and civilian cooperation between NATO and Russia outside of the NATO-Russia Council.
Hunter said Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, continued aggression against Ukraine, its military buildup, and nuclear posturing in Kaliningrad, give Western countries reasons for concern. It also created the need for NATO countries to reinforce their defenses, he said.
However, only after Russia announced deployment of additional forces in Crimea - including those with nuclear-capable long-range bombers - did NATO express alarm about safety and security of its members. NATO then decided to increase military presence on the member territories bordering Russia.
The NATO official wrote that cooperation between NATO and Russia "was suspended in response to Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and its continued aggressive actions in Ukraine, which the Allies condemn in the strongest terms."
However, despite increased tensions, "political channels of communication remain open, including through the NATO-Russia Council, which met three times in 2016," the NATO official wrote.
Furthermore, by talking about Russia as an "imaginary" threat to NATO, Perentzhiev's claim appears not to make any consideration of how Russia's aggression caused disruption in European security, analysts say.
Russian actions directly against NATO members, such as the routine aggressive military aviation incidents in Eastern European member air space, aggressive Russian espionage and information operations in the Czech Republic, and the abduction of an Estonian security officer by Russian operatives might make Russia far more than an "imaginary" threat to the alliance, they say.
At a press conference on January 31, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO is reacting to Russia’s aggression. His comments counter Perentzhiev's statement alluding to the perception that Russian threats are "imaginary."
“We see a more assertive Russia,” he said. “NATO does not want confrontation with Russia. We don’t seek confrontation with Russia. We don’t want a new Cold War. So our response is measured. It is transparent and it is defensive.”
Former ambassador Hunter said Russia's bears the blame for forcing NATO's hand at increasing defense.
Russian President Vladimir “Putin can act to quell the fears, but he has not done so,” Hunter said.