Nato gesture to Moscow worries Central Europe

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The Independent Online
NATO has agreed to offer Russia a 'special relationship' in parallel with a partnership agreement, officials said yesterday.

The effort is part of moves to draw Boris Yeltsin closer to the West, and to underpin Nato's Partnership for Peace scheme. But it will raise questions about how far a security condominium is being created in Europe above the heads of Central European governments.

Next week Pavel Grachev, the Russian Defence Minister, will brief the alliance about Russia's new defence doctrine, and is also expected to discuss membership of Nato's Partnership for Peace scheme, designed to bridge the gap between Nato and its former adversaries to the east. Moscow has hesitated to sign the pact because it did not believe it went far enough in conceding Russia's unique status.

The alliance has been discussing the idea of a 'special strategic relationship' with Russia for some months, but now the idea is taking shape. This is already broader than Nato, and also includes a partnership and co-operation agreement with the European Union (expected to be finalised in the next month), membership in some form of the Group of Seven industrialised nations, and possibly membership of the Council of Europe, the body that groups European democracies.

Nato has accepted that it must provide some acknowledgement of Russia's position since last September, when officials said that a necessary precondition for beginning the task of widening to the east was providing 'sweeteners' for Moscow.

Yesterday, an alliance spokesman said there was a strong view 'that there should be scope in the broader Nato-Russian relationship for dialogue and co- operation that reflects the role and importance of Russia in European security and stability'.

But there will be unhappiness among some of the Central European states that Russia is so readily being given a special status. Nato was at pains to point out yesterday that it was not giving Russia any veto over alliance actions; and that the deal would not add or remove anything from the broader Partnership for Peace scheme, to which the Central and East European states are all signatories.

Alliance sources are adamant that any deal will have to be transparent. But there are bound to be concerns that Russia will seek special rights of consultation, and that it may also seek some 'wiggle room' in existing security commitments. There has been alarm at suggestions that Russia wanted to ease some of the terms of the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, which senior Russian military officials believe is over-restrictive on what forces Russia can place on its troubled borders.

But if Russia does not sign up for the Partnership for Peace scheme, this will undermine the credibility of the alliance's most important post- Cold War initiative.