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Latvia says Russia wants toothless NATO
By Peter Starck

STOCKHOLM, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Latvia's Defence Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis heaped criticism on Russia on Wednesday, saying it wanted to see a "toothless" NATO.

Speaking at a security policy conference in Sweden, Kristovskis said: "Russia, today, wishes to minimise the influence of NATO, encouraging it to become a peacekeeping force and thereby reduce its war-fighting capabilities."

The Baltic state, which won independence when the Soviet Union collapsed just over a decade ago, is to join NATO in 2004.

The defence alliance's eastward expansion was strongly opposed by the Kremlin until a few years ago.

Kristovskis pointed to U.S. President George W. Bush's remarks at a November summit in Prague where Latvia's NATO entry accord was signed, that anyone who picked a NATO member, old or new, as its enemy would also be choosing the United States as its foe.

"NATO membership is equal to territorial homeland security," the Latvian defence minister told the conference in Salen, a ski resort in central Sweden.

Russia "has to come to the conclusion that the world is no longer based on large-power bi-polar Cold War relations, but rather on democratic values and international multipolarity," Kristovskis said.

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