NATO Military Chairman Seeks Constructive Contacts With Russia

Gen. Petr Pavel of the Czech army, center, the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, answers a question at a recent Defense Writers Group event at George Washington University in Washington

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Washington, DC – The chairman of NATO’s Military Committee would like to see the NATO-Russia Council reinvigorated to address issues pending between the two entities.

Gen. Petr Pavel of the Czech army said Russia must show through actions, not just words, that it is ready for such a development. The general spoke to the Defense Writers Group recently at George Washington University here.

Pavel said he believes there is a chance for improved relations between the alliance and Russia. “I am always a cautious optimist,” he told the writers. “I believe that there is a chance to have better relations between NATO and Russia, but what we need is more willingness on the Russian side that would assure the alliance that Russia has serious interest in making this relationship better.”

Russia must take steps, in other words, to prove it is serious, and the general said he will not ignore past bad behavior. “It is difficult to sit at the table knowing there are occupied territories in Georgia, that there is direct Russian support to separatists in [Ukraine’s Dombass region], that there is the Crimea that was occupied illegally,” he said. “There are a number of not only concrete measures, but also narratives that are creating tensions. We need to have more common will to engage in a constructive dialogue.”

The best place to start would be in Ukraine, Pavel said. “Until there is a solution in Ukraine, there will not be an improvement in relations,” he added. One step in the right direction would be for Russia to allow United Nationsor Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe missions into the contested region. “That would be a clear sign of a constructive approach,” the general said. “At that point, we can start thinking about other steps to improve coordination and dialogue.”

Russian Military Doctrine

There are no hard-and-fast lines between peace and war in Russian military doctrine — it is a spectrum, the general said, adding that the Russian government views its actions against neighbors such as Georgia and Ukraine as the low end of continuous conflict.

What NATO calls “hybrid war” or some observers call the “Gerasimov Doctrine” – after Gen. Pavel Gerasimov, Russia’s chief of defense – is the use of information operations, troop movements, propaganda, economic moves and diplomacy to gain Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objectives. It is a “way to influence development in a number of countries,” Pavel said. “This is a new reality we have to learn from and adjust to. Russia is using opportunities provided by new technologies and some gaps in international norms to its benefit.”

Pavel said he would like to see some sort of agreement to define the rules of behavior in cyberspace. “It’s a big question today how we will address it, how we will create a similar regulatory framework as in the conventional or nuclear — the same framework has to be developed in cyber,” he said. “We will have to work on this issue not only with Russia, but with other big actors like China.”

The NATO-Russia Council had three meeting last year, and another will be scheduled after Russia’s March 18 elections, Pavel said. Scheduling a meeting is a problem, he noted, as Russia has neither an ambassador nor a senior military representative to NATO.

Military-to-military contacts are important, Pavel said, but Moscow cancelled a scheduled meeting between US Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, and Gerasimov. Pavel said he would like to continue his and Scaparrotti’s military-to-military contacts with the Russian military leader. “Both these channels are important and can bring a substantial level of detail to the NATO-Russia Council,” he added.

Moving the Dialogue Forward

“We need probably more impulse to move the dialogue forward,” Pavel said. “Up to now, the standard agenda is quite vague. We need to get more into substance to move ahead, including the issues that we call hybrid, which is a quite broad area. Cyber and other issues must be addressed.”

The standard agenda for the council is limited to Ukraine, risk reduction and transparency, the general told the writers. “I believe we will have to go a little bit more into the depth, because without addressing concrete measures, concrete numbers, concrete actions, it is difficult to proceed,” he said. “I think we need the will on both sides to move ahead with the agenda to set up progress.”

Putin’s March 1 speech was not so much on the state of the country, but an address on the state of the military, Pavel said. The speech “also illustrates the need for extensive dialogue with Russia on disarmament, especially in the nuclear arena,” he added.

“All these developments may turn dangerous if they are not handled carefully from the very beginning,” he said.

Increased Concerns

The Russian military buildup and modernization leads to increased concerns and fear in the population in the Baltic republics, Pavel said. “That’s why NATO created the enhanced forward presence with rotational battle groups to demonstrate NATO resolve to act if necessary,” he said. “We are doing the best to keep the level of this military presence below being threatening to Russia — we didn’t want to bring any competition to bring more forces to the region.

“We wanted to demonstrate at a very proportionate level that most of NATO allies are present and the commitment to Article 5 is solid, he continued. “All NATO allies will act if there is a violation of the NATO treaty.”

Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which established the NATO alliance, addresses the principle of collective defense, with an attack against one ally considered as an attack on all allies.

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