Russia and NATO could soon stage joint military exercises, exchange junior officers and train peacekeepers together as the former Cold War enemies move “from a partnership of words to a partnership of deeds,” U.S. Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, NATO’s top commander in Europe, said Saturday.
Wrapping up a four-day visit to Russia, Shalikashvili also said that Russian officers could begin studying in NATO military schools.
The joint projects broached by Shalikashvili follow logically from Russia’s steadily warming relations with the West. But they still seem fantastic so soon after the end of decades of Cold War confrontation between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the now-defunct Warsaw Pact.
“Times change,” Russian Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev said, admitting that he would have considered such close cooperation unthinkable even two or three years ago. “The situation changes. We don’t consider each other enemies--on the contrary.”
Shalikashvili and Grachev discussed working together on everything from delivering humanitarian aid to saving people at sea.
Grachev said they focused in part on joint action to suppress local conflicts that threaten global stability and to “prevent the spreading of aggressive elements of Islamic fundamentalism on our own territory and the territory of other states of Europe.”
Russian and NATO military experts are scheduled to meet within the next month or two to work out the details of proposed programs.
Shalikashvili sounded especially enthusiastic about plans to exchange NATO and Russian junior-level officers, saying that it is all well and good for generals to meet but that when captains and majors get friendly, those friendships last their entire lives.
“That will give us our best degree of insurance that this relationship really will become a new partnership,” the four-star U.S. general said.
He drew the line, however, at offering NATO membership to countries of the former Warsaw Pact, saying that he believes allowing new states to join at this point would create too much tension among rival would-be members.
Top Russian officials have said they believe that Russia could eventually join NATO as it evolves into a general European security organization. For now, Russia and other former Soviet Bloc countries work through a new body known as the North Atlantic Cooperation Council.
NATO has repeatedly resisted attempts by former Warsaw Pact members to draw it into a more active role in Eastern Europe and some of the troubled former Soviet republics.