Russia seeks Nato pact veto

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RUSSIA set conditions for agreeing to a new pact with Nato yesterday when the Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, re-asserted Moscow's role as a superpower in a speech to defence ministers and pushed for an east-west security condominium.

He reiterated that Russia will sign the Partnership for Peace (PFP) scheme, designed to create military and political ties between east and west. But he underlined that to build bridges between Russia and Nato would require more than this. He handed Nato a document describing what he called 'the parameters' for agreement - effectively preconditions. And he set out Russia's ambitions in a wide-ranging speech.

Russia wants a pan-European security structure to 'co-ordinate' the work of Nato, the European Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States - putting the alliance and Russia on an equal footing. Mr Grachev said the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, the largely ineffectual 53-member body, should be linked to the North Atlantic Co-operation Council (NACC).

This would effectively give Russia a veto over Nato actions by creating a new overarching security body and is completely unacceptable to the West. Nato has insisted that it must have primacy in any relationship. But it is possible that a compromise may emerge for regular talks on security involving these institutions. Malcolm Rifkind, the Defence Secretary, said: 'There have to be other mechanisms for dealing with Russia.'

The Russians have also indicated that revision of the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe is linked to joining PFP, senior US defence officials said. Part of this agreement limits Russian troop numbers on its northern and southern flanks, including the crisis-ridden Caucasus region, and it wants this limitation removed.

Russia further wants greater leeway for its forces engaged in 'peace-keeping' operations in, for instance, Georgia, Nagorny Karabakh and Abkhazia.

William Perry, the US Defense Secretary, underlined that there could be no formal treaty with Russia on any of these issues. But Nato is prepared to put forward a side- agreement when Russia signs up for PFP asserting general principles for the relationship, alliance sources said yesterday. 'It could be that along with the signature of PFP a declaration or an official statement may also take place,' said Sergio Balanzino, Nato's deputy secretary-general.

The US Defense Secretary acknowledged that 'several of the central and eastern European countries expressed concern about what Russia's intentions might be about the PFP'.

Nato members are reassured that Russia will now sign an agreement, and are intent on finding ways of bridging the remaining gap with Moscow. 'We have to take up the suggestions quickly and work on them,' said Germany's Defence Minister, Volker Ruhe.

(Photograph omitted)