NATO's Message to Russia

Article excerpt

When leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries gather in Bucharest, Romania, Wednesday for their regular summit, they will confront several pressing issues. Ukrainian and Georgian aspirations for membership in the alliance is one. Promoting stability in Afghanistan and other far-flung hot spots is another.

But missing from the agenda is the one issue that is staring the allies right in the face, but needs to be addressed urgently: What to do with Russia.

Outgoing President Vladimir Putin is doing a big favor to the alliance by accepting its leaders' invitation to Bucharest. His sheer presence will put Russia on the agenda. How will the allies respond?

Speaking at last year's high-level security conference in Munich, Mr. Putin threw down the gauntlet to the assembled dignitaries, threatening a new cold war if the West didn't pay closer attention to Russia and its interests.

Since then, he and other Russian officials have repeatedly threatened retribution against Poland and the Czech Republic for participating in US missile defense plans; against Ukraine and Georgia for pursuing NATO membership; and against European Union and NATO members for recognizing Kosovo's independence.

Putin's speeches have played well in Russia. The Russian public likes his assertive tone, according to polling data. In Europe, both old and new, his words have raised fears of Russian revanchism. This may be good for European and trans-atlantic solidarity, but it is not enough.

Despite Putin's broadsides against NATO and various US and European initiatives, none of the leaders from either side of the Atlantic has taken up his rhetorical challenge. His speeches have gone unanswered, ceding the most important audience of all - the Russian people - to Putin.

The very fact that the majority of Russian people approve of Putin's foreign policy should be alarming to Western leaders. In 2007, 60 percent of Russians agreed that "the greatest threat to Russian security" came from US missile defense deployment in countries neighboring Russia, and only 8 percent thought it was posed by Iranian nuclear weapons.

If that is not cause for alarm, what is? And this is at the time when more Russians travel abroad, surf the Web, and have unimpeded access to the world of ideas than ever before.

By welcoming Putin to Bucharest, NATO leaders should welcome the Russian people and engage them with a candid and clear message.

They should reiterate NATO's openness to cooperation with Russia and lack of ill will toward it. …