Could the Russian military be a partner to NATO in counter-terrorist operation?

Led by Pavel K. Baev

May 2011 – May 2011

This project has been approved by the FD in late March. According to the application, its main parameters are as following.

The Research Problem and the Background

NATO has directed sustained efforts towards building a constructive pattern of relations with Russia as it followed the course of enlargement. Joint work in combating international terrorism had been identified as one of the promising avenues for cooperation long before the attacks of 11 September 2001. However, the new pro-active course of the US administration, with a strong emphasis on the use of military force against terrorist organizations and countries, identified as supporters of terrorism, has caused much tension within the Alliance – and that has had serious repercussions for its relations with Russia. As NATO embraces a new range of tasks related to the counter-terrorist agenda, engaging the Russian military in a practical cooperation acquires new importance but also faces new problems.

Moscow has declared its readiness to build a new partnership with NATO, leaving behind all its reservations against the enlargement and most of the objections against the use of the Alliance’s forces in the 1999 Kosovo crisis. In principle, Russia could be a valuable partner for the NATO-led operations in Afghanistan as it has considerable military assets and political influence in Central Asia. It also deploys forces to military bases and peace-keeping operations in the Caucasus, which might in the near future acquire more prominence in NATO planning. However, translating political declarations into practical cooperation in these regions has proven to be problematic. Moscow, for instance, has issued several official protests against the activities of US spy-planes that were seeking to locate terrorist camps in Georgia. An even more striking example is the existence of two airbases just outside Bishkek (the capital of Kyrgyzstan) – US/NATO base in Manas and Russia/CIS base in Kant – that operate independently of one another and even cannot establish a joint system of air traffic control.

It would be neither difficult nor methodologically incorrect to compile a list of political problems and strategic divergences between Russia and NATO, add a number of indicators of incompatibility between their military structures – and thus to arrive to a negative conclusion regarding the prospects of cooperation. Such a conclusion, however, could not be helpful for addressing the needs in joint military efforts that might manifest themselves in the near future. A re-evaluation of the experience in deploying multilateral peacekeeping operations in the Balkans could, to the contrary, supply some positive lessons that might become particularly relevant in the future operations that would combine counter-terrorist and peace-building tasks, not unlike the on-going operation in Afghanistan.

While Moscow has opted for discontinuing its military involvement in the Balkans and has so far refrained from any participation in international efforts at stabilizing Afghanistan, it could contribute significantly to multilateral interventions in conflict situations to the South of Russia’s borders. It would hardly be possible, for that matter, to outline even in the most general terms a role for the Russian military in a NATO-led operation in Iraq (which is by no means unthinkable), but it may be necessary to start thinking in practical terms about burden-sharing and interaction in counter-terrorist and humanitarian operations in Central Asia. Security challenges originating in this region add to the pressure for undertaking a fresh effort at reforming the Armed Forces has been gradually building in Russia since the defeat in the first Chechen war. While in the first years of Putin’s presidency the military leadership was able to resist this pressure, seeking instead to revive the major structures of the military organization with the newly available resources, now they have to consider seriously the needs and opportunities for sustained modernization of the Army. The deadlocked war in Chechnya, as well as significant resource constraints, are certain to interfere with any reform plans thus reducing them to a series of incoherent compromises.

Assessing the immediate and mid-term prospects for cooperation between the Russian military and NATO in conducting counter-terrorist operations is, therefore, a complex research problem, which could be structured as a three-fold task:
• to analyse the political incentives and obstacles for joining efforts;
• to assess the strategic pros and cons of joint operations;
• to identify possible benefits and/or incompatibilities on the tactical level.

For the first task, the key issue is the different interpretations of the concept of multilateralism in the US, Europe (to the degree we can speak about a common European position) and in Russia. This project, with its focus on Russia, cannot provide a sufficient analysis of the trans-Atlantic disagreements over the counter-terrorist agenda – but has to reflect upon those since they make an impact on Russian policy-making. That creates an opportunity to incorporate into the project some analytical insights obtained through the implementation of the large-scale research project at PRIO on developing the European security identity (supported by the Norwegian Research Council). For the second task, a major problem is the divergence of strategic guidelines in combating terrorism between NATO and Russia, where the war in Chechnya continues to define a strong emphasis on unrestrained use of military force. This problem will be addressed in connection with new and more fundamental research on the interplay between terrorism and local wars undertaken in PRIO’s Centre for the Study of Civil War (CSCW). For the third task, the crucial issue is the gaps between NATO’s and Russia’s involvement in managing the potential for instability in the wider Caspian area. The analysis of this issue will be linked with the research on the role of energy interests in shaping Russia’s security policy in the Caspian area (supported by the Petropolitics programme of the Research Council).

Addressing these tasks, the research project builds on the findings of the previous projects on ‘Russian Army as a Political Instrument and Policy-Maker’ (1994-1995); ‘The Russian Army and Russia’s Evolving Security Posture’ (1995-1997); ‘Regionalism in Russia and the Transformation of the Russian Army’ (1998-2000); ‘Russia’s Foreign Policy, Military Reform and Regionalism’ (2001); ‘Russia in the Global War Against Terrorism: Limits of Partnership With the West, Internal Challenges and Military Reform’ (2002), and ‘Transforming the Russian Military: A Fresh Effort or More of the Same?’ (2003). The output of the above projects was the book The Russian Army in a Time of Troubles (London: SAGE, 1996), 10 book chapters in edited volumes and 19 articles in academic and policy-oriented journals (for the output in 2003, see the forthcoming Report). The research planned for 2004 will take this analysis further and – by importing findings from research projects focussed on Russia-Europe relations – provide for examining new trends and perspectives. It will also contribute to further competence building in one of the priority areas identified by the Defence Ministry.

The Aim and Goals of the Research Project

The projects targets the problem that lies on the intersection of several research avenues but, nevertheless, has not as yet seen sufficient attention. There is a considerable body of analysis (both theoretical and applied) that focuses on the trajectory of Russia’s relations with the West and, more specifically, on the prospects for and obstacles in its interactions with NATO. The impact of internal factors on Russia’s foreign policy as well as the pattern of the transformation of the Russian military are examined in every significant aspect; there is also much serious research in the West on the impact of Putin’s leadership. More recently, there has emerged a fast-growing stream of current analysis and risk assessment focused on the counter-terrorist warfare, including pre-emptive operations. However, there is a lack of solid academic research that would link the political trends in Russia’s partnership with NATO and the strategic trends in the international security landscape where counter-terrorism emerges as a defining feature. In particular, the complex interplay between Russian and Western energy interests in the Caspian area, the emerging security challenges (including terrorism), and their power-projection capabilities remains under-researched.

The aim of the proposed research project is to evaluate the scale of problems standing in the way of joint NATO-Russia counter-terrorist operations on various levels. This aim includes three major goals:

• to assess the impact of residual tensions and emerging new issues, including those related to the Alliance’s enlargement, on political dialogue between Russia and NATO;
• to examine the differences in strategic conceptualising of counter-terrorist operations and the lessons learned from the experience in joint peace-keeping operations;
• to look into the questions of compatibility between the Russian military and the NATO operations, stemming from a) the inadequacy of Russian military reforms, b) the increasing gap in modernization, particularly in C3I systems and procedures, and c) dissimilar combat experiences, primarily as far as Chechnya is concerned.

While each of these goals constitutes a separate research task, every effort will be made to achieve synergy from bringing their conclusions closer together, paying particular attention to new issues emerging on the course of conflict management in the Caspian area.

The key findings

Political dialogue between Russia and NATO: The old stereotypes, the post-Cold War cooperative links and the new tensions

After the drastic deterioration of Russia-NATO relations caused by the Kosovo crisis of Spring 1999, their political dialogue was steadily improving and President Putin’s decision in September 2001 to provide support to the US military operation in Afghanistan was seen as an opening of a new chapter in these relations. The work in the re-formatted Russia-NATO Council was aimed at converting this expanded dialogue into practical cooperation; however, already in 2003, signs of new tensions emerged. The disagreements with the US over the start of the war in Iraq did affect Russia’s attitude to NATO, even if it managed to find much common ground with France and Germany. The termination of Russia’s contribution to NATO-led international peacekeeping operations in the Balkans was regrettable; nevertheless, there were reasons to expect a continuation and even deepening of cooperative engagements.

It has now become clear that during the year 2004 these expectations were largely disappointed; while the political dialogue continued without any major setbacks, the real cooperation by and large remained stalled. In retrospect, it is possible to argue that it was the political crisis in Georgia in late 2003 (often referred to as the ‘rose revolution’) and the pro-active and pro-Western course of President Mikhail Saakashvily that made Russia worried and suspicious about NATO’s influence in the former Soviet states. These suspicions have been strongly reinforced by the political crisis in Ukraine in November-December 2004, when Russia and the West found themselves on the opposite sides of the political barricades in the ‘orange revolution’. While Moscow has singled out the OSCE for criticism and even punishment, conservative commentators in Russian media were speculating about ‘NATO tanks in Kharkov’, revealing the resurgence of old stereotypes. It was not lost on Russian policy-makers that the possibilities for forceful suppression of the ‘orange revolution’ were significantly reduced by the fact that most Ukrainian military officers in the top and middle ranks had been in various forms engaged into NATO-centred networks and so were strongly reluctant to act against the pro-Western politicians and demonstrators.

In the framework of this project, attention was focused less on the routine contacts between Russia and NATO, that were maintained ‘as normal’, but more on the deeper shifts in Russia’s foreign policy, first of all the erosion of President Putin’s orientation towards the West. These shifts were examined in the article ‘The Evolution of Putin’s Regime: Inner Circles and Outer Walls’ (Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 51, no. 6, pp. 3-13), which was translated into Russian and appeared in several Internet journals (for instance, Several current comments were published in the Eurasia Monitor, produced by the Jamestown Foundation, Washington (for instance, ‘Needing a scapegoat for the fiasco in Ukraine, Moscow slams OSCE’, 1 December; or ‘Andropov’s legacy in Putin’s foreign policy’, 18 June, all available at

Conceptualizing counter-terrorist operations: Lessons learned from peacekeeping/peace-enforcement

NATO during 2004 was trying to integrate the conceptualization of experiences in Afghanistan that generally reinforced its recent experiences gained in the Balkans, and the thinking stemming from the Iraq war. Russia, while watching with keen interest the US struggle against the guerrilla in Iraq, generally stayed away from this strategy development. Its own strategic thinking, however, remained seriously underdeveloped and rather shallow. In this project, one attempt to examine this thinking was made in the presentation ‘What could the Armed Forces be used for?’ at the conference Whither Russia? Organized by the Swedish Defence Research Agency (Stockholm, 6-7 May), later published in the proceedings (FOI Strategiskt Forum No. 15, September).

One specific strategic issue that was strongly pressed forward by Russian military authorities, first of all Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, was the right to conduct preventive strikes against terrorist bases or ‘safe havens’ outside Russia’s territory without the consent of the state on which territory these targets were located. It remained unclear to what degree the stream of Russian statements on this issue represented merely a bluff and whether there was any real planning behind them. The analysis of capabilities available for such ‘preventive’ strikes was presented in the article ‘Russia insists upon preventive strikes: Possible options’ published in RUSI Newsbrief (Royal United Services Institute, London, October) and in two short comments published in Eurasia Monitor (‘Russian preventive strikes – options and capabilities’, 14 September; and ‘Putin’s “Wonder Missiles”: Bluff, threat or pep-talk?’, 22 November).

Compatibility between the Russian military and the NATO capabilities in conducting counter-terrorist operations

The question of compatibility remained a ‘theoretical’ one during the year 2004, since Moscow showed no inclination towards, for instance, contributing to NATO operations in Afghanistan. Three key questions in this context were identified in the research project, and the first of them was the inadequacy of Russian military reform. This notion totally disappeared from the official political and military discourse in 2004, while there were many claims and promises about strengthening and modernization of the Armed Forces. The central debate concerning the military reform had been about discontinuing the draft system and building a ‘professional’ army, but it was cut short in early 2004, and in early 2005 Defence Minister Ivanov even began to demand the tightening of the legislation in order to close most of the loopholes in the draft system. In this project, the general overview of the military reform was undertaken in the chapter ‘The Trajectory of the Russian Military: Downsizing, Degeneration, and Defeat’, (pp. 43-72 in Steven E. Miller & Dmitri Trenin, eds, The Russian Military: Power and Policy. Cambridge, MA & London: The MIT Press, enclosed). A closer look at the issue of training and combat readiness was taken in the article ‘Kremlin launches military exercises in the Russian Far East’ (Eurasia Daily Monitor, 10 June,

The second key question, as identified in the research project, was about the increasing gap in modernization, particularly in C3I systems and procedures. In 2004 and, with an even more pronounced emphasis, in 2005, some new weapons systems have been ordered and purchased for the Armed Forces in order to build up their combat capabilities. The problem was not in the lack of priorities in this acquisition program (which appear to aim at providing ‘a little to everybody’), but more in its failure to address the fundamental problem in modernizing the military structures: lack of computerized C3I systems. There are some technical aspects to the chain of accidents, analyzed, for instance, in the interview with Radio Free Europe on the failures with missile launches in February ( Overall, however, it is by no means a technical problem, since the organization of the High Command is so archaic and inefficient that computerization remains a foreign ‘redundancy’. One long-postponed and finally accomplished (in July 2004) step in streamlining the overlapping structures of the Defence Ministry and the General Staff was the replacement of the maverick head of the latter Anatolii Kvashnin with his more controllable deputy Yuri Baluevsky. This, however, even in combination with some structural changes in the Defence Ministry, is by far not enough to ensure a more efficient leadership. In this project, the significance of these changes was evaluated in the article ‘The decline of the General Staff leaves reform in limbo’ (Jane’s Intelligence Review, vol. 16, no. 10, October, pp. 48-49, enclosed). One particular area where Russia sought to develop cooperation with NATO despite technical problems and personnel reshuffling is joint naval exercises, and here further research appear promising.

The third question involves vastly dissimilar recent experiences in conducting combat operations and ‘peace’ interventions, accumulated by the Russian military and the armed forces of the key NATO member-states; for that matter, the wars in Chechnya and in Iraq tend to bring home very different lessons. Despite a certain decrease in the intensity of military operations in Chechnya, this deadlocked and brutally violent conflict continues to generate much pressure on the army and affects its professional culture and morale. This issue remained in the focus of research in this project and the results were presented in the article ‘Instrumentalizing Counterterrorism for Regime Consolidation in Putin’s Russia’ (Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, vol. 27, no. 4, July-August, pp. 337-352, enclosed) and three short articles in Eurasia Daily Monitor (‘Moscow Conveniently Forgets Chechnya’, 28 September; ‘Two Southern Failures: The Second Chechen War and the “Deal of the Century”, 6 October; ‘Chechnya: From Yeltsin’s Mistake to Putin’s Failure’, available at

Expertise-building and networking

One of the major goals of the research project was to contribute to the development of expertise in Norway on current Russian security and military problems. Besides publications, one of the key means for achieving this goal was lecturing, both in the military institutions (lectures at the Forsvarets høyskole and Krigsskolen, consultations in the Forsvarets stabskole) and in public forums (the Atlantic Committee, University of Oslo). Seminars and briefings on relevant topics were given at the FD, UD and OED. Another contribution was the supervision of the doctoral projects of Pinar Tank on ‘Turkey’s Military Elite at Crossroads: Paths to Desecuritization?’ (supported by the FD, to be completed in 2005) and Tor Bukkvoll on ‘Defining a Ukrainian foreign policy identity: Business interests and geopolitics in the formulation of Ukrainian foreign policy’ (supported by the FD and based at the FFI, successfully defended in January 2005), and the consulting role for Sven Gunnar Simonsen’s post-doc project on ‘Military Intervention and Post-Conflict Nation-Building’ (supported by the FD).

An important element of the project was extensive cooperation with other Norwegian and Nordic research institutes, first of all with the Centre for Russian Studies at NUPI. Cooperative ties were established with the Finnish International Affairs Institute (FIIA-UPI), and a seminar there was given in January 2004. Swedish Defence Research Establishment (FOI) was a partner in the project focussed on the future trajectory on Russia, with a workshop in May 2004. Finally, a part of this networking was the participation in the Nordic Network for Security Studies (NNSS) workshop on ‘Dimensions of Russian Security Policy’ which is aimed at producing an edited volume in 2005.

The project also involved extensive international networking, including a range of military institutions. Among key partners in 2004 were the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington (policy conference planned for February 2005 with two memos prepared); the NATO Defense College (Seminar in Helsinki in May); The Royal United Services Institute, London (paper published in the RUSI Newsbrief), and the Woodrow Wilson School for International Studies, Princeton University (presentation at conference on terrorism and WMD, December).

Many interviews with Norwegian and international media were performed in the course of the project in 2004; the interviews with the Christian Science Monitor (20 and 26 August), with the Jerusalem Post (15 May and 22 August) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (18 February and 1 October) could be mentioned separately. The letter ‘Putin and Russia’ was published in the International Herald Tribune (14 September).

Main output

Interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on the failures to launch strategic missiles during the military exercises if the Northern Fleet.

Article Kremlin Launches Military Exercisesin the Far East in Eurasia Monitor, 10 June.

Article Russian Preventive Strikes: Options and Capabilitiesin Eurasia Monitor, 14 September.

Article 'Russia insits upon preventive strikes: Possible options', RUSI Newsbrief, October.

Paper 'What could the Armed Forces be used for?' in Robert L. Larson (ed) Whither Russia? FOI- Swedish Defence Research Agency, Conference Proceedings, Stockhilm, May.

Chapter 'The Trajectory of the Russian Military: Downsizing, Degeneration and Defeat' in the Trenin & Miller (eds) book The Russian Military: Power and Policy, Cambridge MA & London: The MIT Press, 2004.

Article 'Decline of the General Staff leaves reform in limbo' in the Jane's Intelligence Review, October, pp. 48-49.

Article 'The Evolution of Putin's Regime: Inner Circles and Outer Walls' in Problems of Post-Communism, November-December, vol. 51, no. 6, pp. 3-13

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