Russia's Defense Ministry has officially informed NATO's headquarters in Brussels of its decision to suspend all military cooperation with its counterparts in the alliance.
The move came after similar notices were received by the defense ministries of Norway, Estonia and Latvia.
This means that all joint events between the Russian army and NATO countries planned for this year will be either cancelled or rescheduled, figuratively mothballed.
Still, Moscow has so far made no reported attempt to cease relations with Brussels, as it did in March 1991 after NATO aircraft began strikes on Belgrade, the Serbian capital. Official NATO envoys were then given 48 hours to leave Moscow.
Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Lavrov said last Thursday at a Moscow briefing: "We aren't planning to slam the door, and they are keeping the door open, too. It will all depend on NATO's choice, on their priorities, not ours."
He said Russia does not need the cooperation as much as NATO does. The alliance wants Moscow for a partner. It wants our support, especially with regard to international operations in Afghanistan, "which is bound to decide the alliance's future." "Russia's support [in Afghanistan] is crucial for NATO," Lavrov added.
It would certainly be too simple to believe that Moscow-NATO relations became strained after Russia launched its "peace enforcement" operation against Georgian aggressors who ruthlessly bombed and shelled the peaceful city of Tskhinval, killing innocent civilians - women, children and elderly people - and Russian peacekeepers who happened to be there on a noble mission of keeping peace in that unstable Caucasian region.
There had been an increase in tension since Brussels refused, possibly under Washington's pressure, to heed Russia's concerns over the unfair distribution of heavy weaponry quotas under the CFE treaty, which happened after the dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the accession of former socialist countries and some Soviet republics to NATO.
Brussels was indeed quite comfortable with more tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery and aircraft in all the main theaters of operation, and with "gray zones" not subject to inspection. NATO could deploy any number of weapons in these zones without looking back at the CFE.
The Alliance preferred to ignore Moscow's disapproval, and we know what happened next. The CFE collapsed burying every instrument of defense transparency and trust in Europe.
Later, Ukraine's and Georgia's NATO accession plans brought yet another disturbing development into Moscow's relations with Brussels. NATO began engaging Kiev in its projects with persistence worthy of a better use, even despite the fact that the majority of Ukrainian population was strongly opposed to the plan.
First, Ukraine's neutrality is documented in its constitution. Second, a NATO rule says a country cannot be admitted unless its population fully supports the move. But what does Brussels care for rules if they are contrary to its political and military priorities?
Brussels relations with Georgia are even more incredible. NATO isn't even baffled by the fact that the country has serous conflicts with its own breakaway regions that have been subdued by Georgian forces, suffered ethnic purges, and finally proclaimed themselves independent.
Neither is NATO put off by the belligerent rhetoric used by Tbilisi officials who openly threaten to solve the country's territorial disputes by force. NATO countries and their allies have spared no effort or money to equip, support and train the Georgian army. We all know what happened next.
In violation of all international agreements, the Georgian army invaded the responsibility zone of peacekeeping forces stationed there to buffer between the opponents. Upon the orders of President Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian army committed an atrocious act of aggression and genocide against civilian population, killing about 2,000 Russian citizens, destroying the regions' economic assets, social infrastructure and housing.
Russia then exercised its legitimate right to protect its peacekeepers and citizens, which Brussels condemned as excessive use of force at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting that followed at U.S. insistence. That, after what that country's army did to the former Yugoslavia!
Incidentally, shortly before that Washington vetoed Russia's request to hold an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Russia Council where Russia's envoy to the bloc, Dmitry Rogozin, was to tell his partners the truth about what really happened in South Ossetia. He would have given facts undistorted by Western propaganda, which, unfortunately, was what Western media did.
A logical question arises: Why do we need the NATO-Russia Council at all - a body ostensibly established to give Moscow and its NATO partners a chance to freely exchange opinions on important international issues without external pressure? It was expected to be different from the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council (PJC), where 26 countries had opposed Russia alone.
Apparently, certain NATO leaders aren't happy with an honest, unbiased dialogue and partnership with Moscow. They prefer a policy of confrontation and ultimatums. Well, Russia has a response to that. As Foreign Minister Lavrov put it, Russia needs NATO as much as NATO needs Russia. No more, no less.
The programs jointly implemented by Moscow and NATO have been drafted to incorporate the interests of all partners. They involve such issues as military reform, anti-terrorist effort, exchange of military delegations, training Afghan and Central Asian agencies in tactics to combat drugs-trafficking, theater missile defense (not to be confused with the planned U.S. missile defense in Eastern Europe), and crisis management. The latter includes liquidating the aftermath of natural disasters, fighting WMD and missile technology proliferation, plus illegal migration, shipwreck rescue, and much more.
We have working groups and cooperation committees on airspace control, scientific research, the environment, and a mechanism of permanent consultations on global political issues.
Many of these programs could be mothballed now. Most importantly, the NATO-Russia anti-terrorist cooperation is at risk.
Russian guided missile frigate Ladny never went to the Mediterranean where it was to participate in NATO anti-terror operation, Active Endeavor.
As for anti-terrorist effort in Afghanistan, Moscow has not yet banned NATO aircraft carrying cargo to its contingents fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda to fly across its territory on their way to Central Asia. Neither is there any hint that transportation of such cargo by Russian railways was interrupted, at least not yet.
The Kremlin could be waiting for Brussels to react to the suspension of military cooperation, the cancellation of joint maneuvers and of the planned exchange of military delegations. It will probably make further decisions proceeding from Brussels' moves.
The choice is larger than either party would be comfortable with. It is NATO's turn to make a move. Its political and military competence is being tested now, both in Afghanistan and in Europe.