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The Times (UK)
17 November 2001
Blair plans wider role for Russia with Nato

THE Prime Minister has written to President Putin and every Nato leader with a proposal to build a new security partnership between Russia and the alliance.

Tony Blair’s initiative, disclosed by senior British officials yesterday, is a direct consequence of the support and co-operation given by the Russian leader since the terrorist attacks on September 11. Although there is no move to invite Russia to join Nato, principally because Moscow has not shown any real interest in applying for full membership, the Prime Minister feels that the Russians must be drawn into a far closer and more meaningful working relationship with Nato.

In a four-page paper sent to Mr Putin, President Bush, the heads of government of the 17 other alliance nations and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Nato’s Secretary-General, Mr Blair has proposed a new security framework under which Russia would take part in decisions on key issues such as counter-terrorism, peacekeeping operations and other security questions.

He has suggested that Nato’s North Atlantic Council, the main policymaking body, be merged with a Russian security / political team and meet once a fortnight in Brussels. The new body could be called Russia / North Atlantic Council, Mr Blair said. The 19-member council would continue to meet once a week as an alliance-only forum, but the Russia / North Atlantic Council would take on an increasingly influential role.

Moscow already has a forum for discussing security questions with the alliance, called the Nato-Russia Permanent Joint Council. That was set up in 1997 as part of the Nato-Russia Founding Act, to help to build confidence and overcome continuing suspicions and misconceptions after the end of the Cold War. However, although the regular meetings of the council have helped to develop better relations, it was never intended as a decision-making body.

Now, according to the officials, the Prime Minister wants to transform that relationship into a trusting, problem-sharing partnership to ensure that Russia never feels out in the cold when security emergencies occur in the future. The September 11 atrocities had provided the opportunity to begin that process.

The ideas have emerged in part from the manner in which Mr Putin has supported the war on terrorism. He has provided crucial Intelligence and permitted the use of bases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia. The officials also noted Mr Putin’s decision not to put Russian troops on high alert in response to President Bush’s announcement after September 11 that US forces had been put on highest readiness.

The burgeoning friendship between Mr Bush and Mr Putin and their decision to form a new strategic partnership had contributed significantly to the improving relations with Russia.

The aim is to set up the new Brussels-based structure in time for the Nato summit in Prague in November next year. One of the main issues on the agenda will be Nato enlargement. Moscow has expressed its opposition to the neighbouring Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joining Nato.

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