Putin calls on Nato to make space for Russia

War on terrorism: Summit
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The Independent Online

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, reached out to Nato yesterday, backing the international campaign against terrorism and calling on the alliance to transform itself into a broader organisation with which Russia could become fully involved.

During a day of talks with EU and Nato leaders, Mr Putin called for the European community "to look again at regional security", and appealed to fellow leaders to come up with "practical solutions". The comments, backed by a firm promise of help to the coalition against terrorism, underlined Moscow's determination to use the new international climate to enhance Russia's international role.

While focusing mainly on international co-operation against Osama bin Laden's network, both sets of talks also broached the more sensitive issue of Russian involvement in post-Cold War security systems.

At yesterday's EU-Russia summit, the two sides agreed to hold monthly talks on defence, tying Moscow closely to Europe's emerging security plans and its aim of setting up a rapid reaction force of 60,000 troops by 2003. The new climate of partnership was cemented in a joint EU-Russian statement promising co-operation to block terrorist finances, exchanges of intelligence on terrorist suspects, movements of chemical, biological or nuclear material, the use of false documents and other terrorist activity.

"The European Union, together with the Russian Federation and the United States, are going to fight against terrorism," said Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy high representative. "We are going to win this battle."

In return, the EU downplayed criticism of Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya, devoting only one, neutral paragraph to the issue in the joint declaration.

Meanwhile Mr Putin, a harsh critic of Nato's plans to expand – particularly into the Baltic – suggested a possible way forward, arguing that the alliance's evolution away from being Cold War military force might allow Moscow to "take another, an entirely new look" at expansion. Such thinking had, he said, been discussed with Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, and will soon be raised with Tony Blair.

Mr Putin argued: "They keep saying that Nato is becoming more political than military. We are looking at this, watching this process. If this is to be so, it would change things considerably."

The Russian President added that "if Nato takes on a different shade and is becoming a political organisation ... of course we would reconsider our position with regard to such expansion if we were to feel involved in such processes".

That positive note was slightly dampened when, after a meeting with the Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Mr Putin questioned whose security would be enhanced if the alliance enlarged. Lord Robertson replied: "There will be an enlargement of Nato next year but there has been no decision about how many countries will join the alliance. At the moment there is no application from Russia but what there is is a partnership which is growing in depth and relevance."

Russia has been promising co-operation, but not military assistance, to the US over its riposte to the terrorist attacks and has smoothed American access to bases in its former republics. It has also said it may be willing to help with intelligence on terrorism in Afghanistan and central Asia.

One senior European official argued that the Russians have "relatively few cards but are playing them very well".

Diplomats pointed to the EU's offer on consultation over its new defence initiative as an example of the new climate producing an arrangement more favourable to Russia than had been envisaged before 11 September. Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said the offer of talks at least once a month with the EU's political and security committee was an "important step towards creating a permanently functioning mechanism for the future". Dialogue, he added, would be across a "broad range of issues" including "terrorism, drug trafficking, and organised crime" as well as "peace-keeping and emergency situations".

The Russian President's contribution was generally welcomed by Nato officials.