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Moscow’s recent troop build-up near Ukraine and other aggressive actions leave little room for genuine dialogue and should lead NATO to maintain efforts to counter Russia’s multifaceted threat, parliamentarians were told Friday.
In a debate on a draft report on confronting the geopolitical and ideological challenges posed by Russia, members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Political Committee weighed Moscow’s influence in Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, and the Middle East.
The draft report urges NATO, whose leaders meet in Brussels next month, to recognise the strategic challenge posed by Russia as the 30-nation Alliance considers updating its Strategic Concept, NATO’s guiding strategic document.
“At this stage we should be realistic about the prospects of genuine dialogue with the current regime – especially as this regime has become increasingly ideological, these prospects are bleak at best,” said US Congressman Brendan Boyle, who drafted the report, at the Assembly’s 2021 Spring Session.
The draft warns that any artificial initiatives to try to improve dialogue with Russia to prevent its growing strategic alignment with China are likely to send the wrong signal and that the national security interests of NATO Allies and partners must not be sacrificed for the sake of better ties.
“In our relations both with China and Russia, we should concentrate on demonstrating consistency, predictability and commitment to the rules-based order,” Boyle said at the meeting, which is being held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Associate Professor Gudrun Persson, from the Swedish Defence Research Agency, also backed a realistic approach, saying that Moscow clearly sees the West as an existential threat.
“We need strong and consequent policies. Anything else will be seen as weakness. We have seen it time and time again over the last year,” Persson said.
The draft report also raises concern about Russia’s growing activism in the Middle East and Africa, and the sense that Moscow is trying to exploit a power vacuum due to Western disengagement, notably in Syria and Libya.
Continued defence spending and burden sharing were also raised as priorities during the debate in the Political Committee, at a time of renewed optimism about reinvigorating the transatlantic relationship.
Legislators were told that, as vaccination campaigns expand and the pandemic weakens, economies will gradually recover. NATO and Allies should recommit to their 2% and 20% defence investment targets, and focus on the challenges from Russia, China, and cyber or hybrid attacks.
“Ensuring adequate levels of defence funding will be essential in navigating the complex challenges faced by the Alliance in the post-COVID world and providing the security context for economic recovery,” said Turkish parliamentarian Ahmet Yildiz.
Mr Yildiz, whose draft report on transatlantic ties and burden sharing in the changing security environment was under discussion, said the update of the Strategic Concept provides a perfect opportunity to commit to equitable burden sharing and revitalise transatlantic ties.
“There is also potential to bolster NATO’s political dimension, by enhancing the scope of political consultation with the aim of increasing dialogue, minimising internal tensions among Allies, and achieving a more cohesive Alliance,” he said. He said the Alliance’s flank countries must be recognised for their counter-terrorism efforts.
Russia and the need to invest politically in Mediterranean countries with which the Alliance works closely were also raised during the meeting in a draft report looking at the Allies’ security agenda for the region.
The draft notes that the Mediterranean Sea is crucial for NATO but also Russia, China, and the Gulf States, among others, with its strategic entry points to the Atlantic, Black Sea, and the Red Sea.
Despite its importance, French legislator and rapporteur Sonia Krimi noted the lack of a “constant, clear and coherent strategy on the part of our Euro-Atlantic community regarding this region.”
Krimi warned that NATO has not focused as much on its southern flank as the east. “The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is certainly emblematic of the differences between Allies but also of our efforts to try to resolve them,” she said.
She welcomed recent diplomatic mediation initiatives that helped ease tensions in the eastern Mediterranean and Libya. She highlighted the role of NATO’s deconfliction mechanism as well as the NATO PA as a forum for frank exchanges among Allied legislators.
Krimi urged the transatlantic community to continue its support for Libya peace efforts. “Durable peace-building requires ensuring an equitable distribution of economic resources for the benefit of all Libyans,” she said, adding that those responsible for human rights violations must face justice.
Download the Political Committee preliminary draft reports
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