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Moscow opposes NATO expansion despite better ties
December 11, 2001

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday that Moscow remained opposed to NATO's expansion eastward, despite plans to boost the alliance's security ties with the Kremlin to match their common fight against terrorism.

"Russia has opposed plans for the enlargement of NATO and continues to do so now," Interfax news agency quoted Ivanov as saying in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. "Even if relations between Russia and NATO expand in terms of the (new) format, this will hardly contribute to settling these contradictions."

Moscow wanted improved cooperation on "political security" rather than in the military field, he said, citing terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Neither issue could be resolved without Russia.

Moscow complained bitterly in 1999 when its former Warsaw Pact allies Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic joined NATO. It bristles at the prospect of the three Baltic states -- once Soviet republics -- joining the alliance and bringing NATO up to Russia's borders.

President Vladimir Putin insists expansion will not boost European security, but last month said "NATO enlargement will cease to be an issue" if the former Cold War foes changed the quality and format of their relationship.

Ties have blossomed since Russia became a stalwart member of the global anti-terrorism coalition forged in response to the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities.

Last month Britain proposed a new Russia/North Atlantic Council, which would discuss terrorism and "soft" security areas such as peacekeeping and weapons nonproliferation

In remarks to Reuters, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said it was implied that Russia would have the right of veto in this body like any of the 19 Western allies, something it does not enjoy in existing consultations.

Russia welcomed the suggested 20-strong format, though NATO officials were quick to deny Moscow would be given any veto over defense matters involving only the Atlantic alliance.

U.S. misgivings, and resistance from NATO newcomers Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, have slowed the move to create a new forum. A meeting of foreign ministers last Friday agreed to draft a workable plan by next May.

Ivanov Tuesday dismissed suggestions that the new body could be seen as an antechamber to membership of NATO or its integrated military command structure. Putin said last Friday in Greece that "Russia is not desperately knocking on NATO's door."

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