Paul Stronski

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Paul Stronski
Carnegie Foundation

Online press conference with Paul Stronski, Senior Associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (USA).

David Stepanyan,
Question - What is the explanation to the consistent enhancement of NATO’s military contingent on the borders between NATO member states and Russia? Is there a real threat of Russian military intervention for example to the Baltic States?
Answer – I am not going to say there is no Russian threat to the Baltics, but I generally do not believe that the Kremlin would risk a direct Russian military actionin the Baltics. Such an action would lead to a NATO response, and NATO’s military capabilities are stronger than Russia’s.  
That said, Russia has proven to be quite an unpredictable actor and often takes actions that appear to contradict its strategic interests.  Its actions in Ukraine, for example, angered the entire Ukrainian nation and turned the population further away from Russia and towards the West.  So, Russia’s actions contradicted its interests. 
What I find worrying is that Russia has conducted provocative actions along the borders of NATO, using all forms of hybrid techniques, as well as some traditional military ones. These hybrid techniques would be harder for NATO to attribute to Russia, therefore complicating NATO members’ ability to agree on an appropriate response.  
Because of these provocative actions, I expect NATO leaders to reiterate the inviolability of Article 5 at the Warsaw Summit and to work to improve NATO and member state resilience.  However, continual provocative actions on the border and incursions into NATO airspace are dangerous in themselves and heighten the risk of an unintended confrontation between a NATO member state and Russia.  This is what happened with Turkey last November. 
Question - Do you think both NATO member states and Russia are using the threat of mutual invention as an internal political "bogeyman"?
Answer – With the exception of countries on NATO’s eastern flank, most NATO states did not view Russia as a threat until the Ukraine crisis.  Since September 11, 2001, NATO mostly focused its efforts on Afghanistan and fighting terrorism – so the bulk of NATO was not focused on Russian threats.  Russia’s actions in Ukraine – it’s annexation of
Crimea and its instigation of separatism in eastern Ukraine -- heightened concerns throughout the region that Russia might intervene in its neighbors, no matter whether they are in NATO or not. So, Russian actions have given NATO a new purpose in the post-Afghanistan era, and transformed the alliance back into one that must deal with responding to Russian threats.   
Russia does not pose a direct threat to the United States, but it does pose threats to our NATO allies – especially in the Baltics, Poland and Turkey – and therefore to the alliance as a whole. These countries certainly see Russia as a threat, and are calling for a response, which explains why NATO is responding with enhanced military capabilities in the eastern NATO states.   
I do not see NATO wanting to or preparing to intervene in Russia at all.  I certainly hope the same is true with Russian intentions to the Baltic states.  But, both sides have used unhelpful rhetoric.  That raises the threat level among Russia’s neighbors.  Heightened threat levels and exclamatory rhetoric are dangerous in themselves and easily could lead to miscalculations between the two sides. So, even if state’s are using the threat for internal political purposes, it is worrying. 
Question - Please evaluate NATO's current non-interference policy towards the South Caucasus countries. What are NATO perspectives (if any) of these countries?
Answer – I don’t quite understand your question and what you mean by “non-interference policy” with the South Caucasus.  NATO views these countries as potential partners with Georgia being an aspirant for membership.  I do not see NATO membership as realistic for Georgia any time soon, however.   There is no consensus in NATO about Georgian membership and there never has been. 
Question - What place in its relations with Russia NATO assigns to struggle against international terrorism? Does Moscow have working tools that will help to fight against this "plague of the 21st century"?
Answer – Russia and NATO have never been able to work well together on international terrorism. Mistrust between Russia and NATO states (especially the security services) is a problem because the security services and law enforcement agencies in Russia and NATO countries are key nodes in the fight against international terror. This mutual mistrust hampers information sharing that could help prevent attacks.  Furthermore, we have also seen more rogue copy-cat terrorism (like in Boston and recently in Orlando) that is harder to combat across borders than the terrorism we saw 15 years ago. The patterns of international terrorism are changing and both Russia and NATO countries seem behind the curve in figuring out how to deal with the changing nature of terrorism today.  
Artak Barseghyan, Public Radio of Armenia
Question - In your opinion, what are the perspectives of NATO's collaboration with the South Caucasus countries and in particular with Armenia?
Answer - NATO views these countries as potential partners with Georgia being an aspirant for membership.  I do not see NATO membership as realistic for Georgia any time soon, however. There is no consensus in the Alliance on Georgia’s membership. 
On Armenia, as an ally of Russia, it is firmly in Russia’s security orbit.  But, NATO will still continue to engage with Armenia and appreciates the partnership it has had with NATO throughout the past twenty years.  I’d also note that Armenian military reform is generally modeled after NATO and the United States, so there are clear incentives on the Armenian side to keep good ties with NATO despite Yerevan’s security alliance with Moscow. However, I do not see the relationship between NATO and Armenia getting any closer in the immediate future. 
Question- In your opinion, what is the possibility of NATO enlargement to the Caucasus, with the accession of new members- particularly Georgia?
Answer - NATO views these countries as potential partners with Georgia being an aspirant for membership.  I do not see NATO membership as realistic for Georgia any time soon, however.   However, Georgia’s military partnership with NATO states, including the U.S. will remain strong.
I do not see any prospects for NATO membership for Armenia or Azerbaijan.  Neither country seems interested in membership.  NATO says the door is always open, but many NATO members are not keen to enlarge the alliance any further east. 
Question - It is well known that Turkey is playing back-door games with ISIS. Is there a possibility for exclusion of Turkey from the Alliance under such circumstances as well as in light of deterioration of relations between Ankara and Brussels?
Answer - I am neither an expert on Turkey nor ISIS, so I cannot really answer this question.  I think many governments in the West are frustrated with Turkey right now given Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism, and unpredictable foreign and domestic politics. But, Turkey is a long-standing and important member of the NATO alliance.  The goal of the alliance is to increase the security of its members, and I still think that most NATO members believe that Turkish membership in NATO enhances their security.  I do not see their exclusion from the alliance anytime soon.   
Aram Sargsyan, 
Question – What is in your opinion the strategic importance of establishment of joint air defense system between Armenia and Russian Federation in the Caucasus region (signed on December 23, 2015 and soon to be ratified by the National Assembly)in terms of West-Russiaor NATO-Russian relations? Will this system be more advantageous to the security of Armenia, or is it fraught with risks, given the unequal nature of Armenian-Russian relations and Russia's consistent steps towards depriving Armenia of the opportunity of making sovereign decisions?
Answer – NATO does not view Armenia as a threat, so I don’t see this joint air defense system as complicating NATO security.  Turkey, given the collapse in Turkish-Russian relations, certainly will not be pleased and it will likely complicate any efforts to broker a reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, and to reopen the borders.  I do not think the air defense system will enhance regional stability in the South Caucasus.
On the second part of your question, I think this is an answer that an Armenian is probably better suited to answer.  I certainly sense greater frustration in Armenia with Russia and a general belief that Russia is taking Armenia for granted.   There also is concern also about Russia playing both sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  But Armenians are in a better position than I to judge the advantages of their security ties with Russia.     
Tigranuhi Martirosyan,
Question –What is the role of NATO in the South Caucasus? Recently some significant changes like rearrangements, military actions between Azerbaijan and Armenia took place in the region. On the other hand, sanctions against Iran were lifted. Did NATO's policy undergo any changes or revision in light of the above mentioned rearrangements? What is NATO planning to do in the South Caucasus?
Answer - The South Caucasus is not a prime area for NATO. Threats to NATO countries generally emanate from the Middle East (terrorism) or Russia (especially in the Baltics). So, I suspect that NATO will continue to do what it has been doing for the past decade, namely exploring partnerships with all three countries.  Although the Georgians certainly want to become a NATO member, I do not see that as a possibility in the immediate future.  However, I do see greater training and security cooperation between Georgia and individual NATO allies, especially the United States.   
Gagik Baghdasaryan,
Question –How effective can be the collaboration between Moscow and Washington in the process of settlement of Karabakh conflict.
Answer - It is difficult.  I think cooperation over Nagorno-Karabakh suffered because of the collapse in US-Russian relations in 2014.  Since then, we have seen some of the worst violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the ceasefire in 1994.  Managing the conflict certainly has been much more difficult since them.  However, a settlement ultimately is contingent on both Armenia and Azerbaijan making compromises, and no amount of US-Russian cooperation on Karabakh can force either Baku or Yerevan to make those compromises if they do want to do so.  
Question - Will Turkey Continue to play a key role of NATO's outpost in the Middle East, notwithstanding Erdogan’s extremely radical policy?
Answer - I am not a specialist on Turkey, so I cannot answer this question. 
Question - Do you expect confrontation between Russia and NATO in the South Caucasus region?
Answer - I do not.  I do not see NATO getting directly involved in any military action in the South Caucasus.  
Question - Can the Alliance attain Turkey's non-interference to regional conflict settlement processes in the South Caucasus and in Nagorno-Karabakh in particular?
Answer – The NATO alliance is not directly involved in conflict settlement processes in the South Caucasus – so I do not see NATO playing a role in in the settlement processes.  NATO, however, remains concerned about the flare-up of the Nagorno-Karabakh war in April and the possibility of renewed violence.  For this reason, NATO and the U.S. will continue to encourage Turkey to become a positive actor in the region and to refrain from any direct involvement in the conflict.
“Hetq” newspaper,
Question – What could bring the standpoints of Russia and NATO together in the near future? Why even the issues not related directly to the clash of their interests are still viewed through this prism? Is Russia's attitude towards NATO and NATO's attitude towards Russia a matter of perception or of Realpolitik? If it is politics, than what kind of politics exactly?
Answer – The problem is not about a clash of interests or realpolitik, but the fact that the political leaderships in Russia and the West see the world differently, and this colors their respective views about the actions of the other.  The West thought the international system had moved beyond the realpolitik of Cold War era.  In fact, NATO after the Cold War was not focused on thwarting Russia, but containing global threats – particularly terrorism, but also ethnic violence, proliferation, and organized crime.   NATO expansion in the 2000s was less about checking Russian power and more about expanding the alliance to include members willing and able to help contain these global threat.  NATO viewed
Russia as a potential partner in this process, and ties with South Caucasus states, including Armenia, increased in this period because of this agenda.  
Russia saw this expansion, however, as directly related to them, and Western leaders underestimated the neuralgia senior Russian leaders had about NATO. So, I think problem is more perception than realpolitik. 
Question –To what extent do the actions of Russia in Syria coincide with the interests of the US? To what extent do the interests of NATO vary from those of the US in the Near East and the Middle East? Let us take the interests of Turkey as an example.
Answer – First of all, I am not a Middle East expert, so I cannot fully answer your question.   My sense is that both Russia and the United States want to see stability in Syria, but each sees the causes of the conflict and its solution differently.  The U.S. sees the Assad regime as a corrupt and brutal system that has brought great damage to the Syrian people and fuels extremism in the region.   
Although the Russian leadership does not necessarily love Assad, it sees the Assad government as the only force capable of holding what remains of the country together and preventing the complete collapse of Syria to extremist forces.  So, while Washington and Moscow might have the same goal of stability for Syria and the Middle East, our visions for how to achieve that stability are drastically different. 
I do not see a difference between NATO’s interests and the U.S. interests in the region.   Both NATO and the US are concerned that Russia’s campaign in Syria is fueling extremism and possibly even the refugee flows of the country.  
Question – Is there any potential for NATO to expand the area of its direct responsibility?  Why is the Middle East more important for NATO from this perspective?
Answer –  NATO’s ultimate goal is to increase the security of its member states.  So, potential threats against member states are areas where NATO should remain involved.   For the 2000s, terrorist threats to the United States and then other NATO states emanated from Afghanistan, which explains why NATO was involved there.   Today, the main threats to NATO come from the east (Russia) and south (Middle East).  So, NATO will carefully watch events in those two places and increase its readiness and resilience to handle any of these threats.  
Armen Minasyan,
Question- What challenges is North Atlantic Alliance facing under the current circumstances. What are the other common threats for NATO member states along with the international terrorism?
Answer - Today, the main threats to NATO come from the east (Russia) and south (Middle East).  So, NATO will carefully watch events in those two places and increase its readiness and resilience to handle any of these threats.  Neither of these threats are traditional military threats.  Russia appears eager to test the resolve of the alliance and use multiple forms of hybrid threats against NATO member states. Terrorism is also a more nebulous threat to prepare for than a traditional military conflict.  Terrorist acts are hard to predict and mandate law enforcement and emergency civilian response, so it is a broader threat than the ones NATO traditionally has had to address.   
Question- Do you think the Alliance is united enough to overcome the current challenges through joint efforts?
Answer - Yes, there are disagreements in the alliance with states to the east concerned more about Russian threats and states to the south concerned about Middle Eastern instability.   But, the organization still recognizes the importance and inviolability of Article 5. 
Question- What can be NATO’s role in elimination of the division lines in the South Caucasus, if it’s possible,given the fact that each of the three countries is moving with different geopolitical vectors?
Answer - NATO is not seeking to play an active role in the South Caucasus, so I do not see it playing a role in eliminating the division lines. 
Question -The reality is that NATO still has a closed border in the 21st century -the border between NATO member Turkey and NATO’s collaborate Armenia. Does NATO have the mechanisms to influence this situation?
Answer - No.  NATO does not have a mechanism to deal with this.  The closed border is primarily a diplomatic issue – which is not one of NATO’s prime responsibilities.   The problems between the states of the South Caucasus are primarily bilateral issues between states and any resolution depends on the states involved.  Neither NATO nor another international organization can resolve Nagorno-Karabakh or the Georgian conflicts, if the states involved do not want resolution.



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