Russia may soon sign an agreement to trade arms with NATO’s procurement agency in a sign of improving relations between the former adversaries, said Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to the alliance, before a summit this week.
An accord with the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency may come after President Dmitry Medvedev meets with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Nov. 19-20 in Lisbon, Rogozin said. State-owned companies, including St. Petersburg-based United Shipbuilding Corp. and Moscow-based AO Russian Technologies, are also in talks with NATO, he said.
“You can trade grain with an enemy but not arms,” Rogozin said Nov. 15 in a phone interview from Brussels.
Russia and NATO are repairing relations strained by the alliance’s eastward expansion and the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. During the summit, the two sides plan to adopt joint positions on common concerns, including Afghanistan, terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, the fight against piracy at sea and protecting infrastructure from natural disasters.
While links are improving, Russia still considers NATO “unpredictable” because its policies can shift depending on the sometimes contradictory views of its 28 members, Rogozin said. He highlighted Russia’s concern by comparing NATO to a “a rhino with poor eyesight.”
“That is a problem not for the rhino, but for the one who does not want to be trampled,” said Rogozin, 47, who started his career by speaking out on the concerns of ethnic Russians in former Soviet states.
Russia got a firsthand view of shifting priorities in the U.S. this week when Senator Jon Kyl, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, said he didn’t think an arms control treaty with Russia would be voted on this year. President Barack Obama told Medvedev on Nov. 14 that getting the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ratified in 2010 was a “top priority.”
“Everybody understands that the START treaty is in the best interests of the U.S. and Russia,” Rogozin said before Kyl’s comments. “It would be very strange if it becomes a hostage to any internal intrigues.”
Russia’s main concern about NATO is its possible expansion, Rogozin said. The alliance will confirm this week that former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine can join once they fulfill necessary criteria, Secretary-General Fogh Rasmussen said Nov. 3 in Moscow. The move isn’t directed against Russia, he said.
Rogozin said NATO’s relations with Georgia and Ukraine are “provocative,” though he doesn’t think the two countries will ever join the alliance.
“There are many people who dream of marrying supermodel Claudia Schiffer and they are ready to write down their dreams,” he said. “The same is true of the NATO dream about Georgia and Ukraine. I think these dreams will stay as dreams.”
The Kremlin is seeking more tangible benefits from a deal with the NATO procurement agency, known as Namsa.
Russia, the world’s second-biggest arms exporter, is turning to overseas defense contractors after Medvedev ordered the military to triple the proportion of “state-of-the-art” weapons in its arsenal by 2015.
The Defense Ministry expects companies from France, Spain and the Netherlands to compete with Russian suppliers for contracts to supply helicopter carrier ships, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said in a September interview. Russia has discussed buying Mistral class vessels made by Paris-based DCNS.
An accord with Namsa would let Russia deal directly with NATO instead of individual countries, and make it easier for the alliance to buy equipment from Russian companies, according to Konstantin Makienko, deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow.
“This agreement, if signed, will be revolutionary,” Makienko said. “Such an agreement will mean a complete new political reality.”
Russia is in talks with the U.S. about delivering 20 Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan. NATO members may create a trust fund to finance maintenance of Russian-built aircraft operated by Afghanistan’s air force, Rogozin said.
The Kremlin is also considering an agreement for “reverse transit,” which would allow NATO forces to ship non-lethal cargoes from Afghanistan back to their home countries across Russian territory, Rogozin said. The government already permits goods to be shipped across Russia to Afghanistan.
“Russia is ready to give NATO what it asks for,” Rogozin said.
Russia and NATO will also discuss plans for a missile defense system during the Lisbon summit.
Obama in September 2009 scrapped former President George W. Bush’s proposal to build the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic in the face of Russian opposition. He promised a more flexible system to protect the U.S. and its European allies, providing an opportunity to revisit Russian proposals.
Rasmussen said in Moscow that he thought NATO and Russia would find a way to work together on missile defense.
While cooperation in this area is a “key issue,” Russia needs details on the NATO proposal, Rogozin said. A common assessment of threats may help the parties agree on what type of shield to build, he said.
“If we can reach the common ground then we can go further and discuss how to block these common threats,” Rogozin said. “Then cooperation on an anti-missile defense system is possible.”