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Putin says Russia still seeking full NATO voice
December 8, 2001

President Vladimir Putin said Russia was seeking a full say in NATO affairs after the alliance decided to set up a new joint council but not grant Moscow veto rights in the Western military block.

Putin argued Friday during a visit to NATO member Greece that he was not seeking preferential treatment from NATO in response to his decision to openly support the US-led campaign in Afghanistan and even take part in some "search and rescue" missions there.

But Putin stressed that the Atlantic Alliance now had to admit that its relations with Moscow had shifted profoundly following the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington and called for Russia to be included in discussions from an early stage.

"We think that there is a large range of questions which can best be decided with Russia's participation from the very start, when these matters are being discussed and before any decisions are made," Putin said at a joint news conference with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis.

"We want to form an organ where Russia could take part in the decision-making process in full," said Putin.

He note that Russia was "prepared to work this question out calmly, in a trusting, friendly atmosphere that has developed today with our partners, including NATO members."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, said Russia supported the idea of establishing a UN-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan but had no plans to take part in such a force.

Russia is struggling to define its new role in the Alliance. NATO diplomats said that a broader Russian role in the alliance was blocked at the Brussels meeting this week after lobbying from the alliance's new eastern European members who still take a cautious view of Moscow.

But Putin found a firm friend on the question of NATO in Simitis, who observed that Athens had for years been lobbying in favor of broadening Russia's role within the alliance.

Simitis called the creation of the new Russia-NATO Council the "basis for new relations within all of Europe."

The council is meant to decide guidelines for cooperation between Russia and the US-led alliance -- which was originally formed to prevent a Soviet invasion of Western Europe -- in future years.

"All of our partners, despite some disagreements on procedural aspects, agree with us that (Russia's integration with NATO) must steadily go on," the Greek prime minister said.

"Russia is an integral part of Europe. There cannot be a common European external policy without direct contact and cooperation with NATO," he added.

However Simitis struck a far more cautious note when questioned about Greece's military cooperation with Russia, saying that his country had "obligations" to NATO states first.

"We are a member of NATO and we have obligations on that part," said Simitis, whose country had earlier purchased long-range missile defense systems from Russia.

The two sides however appeared to find more in common on the question of Russian oil and natural gas supplies to the volatile Balkans region where Moscow's influence had slipped in recent years.

Putin was accompanied to Greece by the heads of Russia natural gas giant Gazprom and the oil heavyweight LUKoil, who were to meet senior Greek executives in Athens later Friday.

"Natural gas is the main line of our cooperation, and there is room for improvement here," Simitis said. "Greece is a bridge between the east and west."

No formal energy agreements were signed Friday, but Putin stressed that he thought that Greece's role within the European Union would rise dramatically if it became a regional distributor of Russian natural gas and oil.

Putin wound down the second day of his three-day visit by receiving an honorary "golden key" to Athens from the city's mayor, and giving a key-note speech at the city's university devoted to the historic ties between the cultures of Russia and Greece.

"Our relations have never been blotted by dark patches," Putin concluded to warm applause.

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