Russia shows Hurd it still has teeth

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The Independent Online
THE MIGHT of Russia's military machine and nuclear armoury was brought home to Douglas Hurd yesterday when he became the first minister from abroad to visit a Kirov-class cruiser, one of the most feared warships of the Cold War.

In snow and blistering wind, the Foreign Secretary toured the cruise-missile-equipped, 25,000- ton Admiral Nakhimov moored at the Arctic naval base of Severomorsk on the Kola peninsula. Accompanied by his Russian counterpart, Andrei Kozyrev, he was briefed by the commander of the Northern Fleet. The vessel, one of four of its class, was called the Kalinin before it was renamed after the end of the Soviet Union in honour of one of Russia's 19th-century naval heroes. Moored alongside, and similarly bristling with missile weaponry lay a sister-ship, the Admiral Ushakov.

Mr Kozyrev, according to one of his aides, had chosen to show Mr Hurd the base because 'here you have one half of the strategic equilibrium. For example, the Typhoon missile submarines based near here could target any point in the northern hemisphere without leaving their bases'.

The unprecedented occasion, on the second day of Mr Hurd's visit, was Mr Kozyrev's way of demonstrating to the West the continuing role played by Russia's military establishment as Nato seeks to persuade Moscow to sign up for its Partnership for Peace scheme. 'There is enough megatonnage here to destroy the better part of mankind,' said Mr Kozyrev's aide with a sweeping gesture towards the massive grey hulls, twice the size of anything in the Royal Navy. 'These are the things of past nuclear confrontation. Our Northern Fleet retains its strategic importance. Russia's military doctrine postulates our strategic forces as a deterring factor against nuclear aggression.'

A British official conceded: 'Perhaps Kozyrev wants Hurd to see that it's not so easy for them to sign up in the face of old-fashioned attitudes.' Russia's Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, will meet his Nato counterparts in Brussels today to discuss conditions for Russian participation in the partnership scheme. Russia has refused to sign so far unless it is given guarantees of a special status superior to other outsiders; it is still smarting from Nato's failure to consult Moscow prior to air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions in February. British officials have spoken of a 'side salad' of separate declarations to encourage the Russians to sign, while insisting that Russia cannot be accorded a right of veto on Nato operations.

'We want less words and more deeds,' said one Russian official. 'We are not interested in linguistic verbiage or ornaments. We are interested in such logical co-operation that would prevent surprises. You could mention the Bosnia episode. We do not pretend to have a veto position and Nato will not have a veto on our position. The main thing is to fine-tune to make a veto unnecessary.'

He called on the Western powers to help fund Russian peacekeeping operations in other former Soviet republics: 'We do not need an international mandate for peacekeeping in the CIS. We conduct these operations with the consent of the receiving parties and on terms acceptable to them. We want an appreciation under which our Western partners recognise that our peacekeeping is not aimed at re-establishing imperial power . . . we are a stabilising, pacifying power.'

When the Kirov class cruisers came into service in the 1980s, they struck terror into the hearts of Western navies who did not know what their real purpose was. During yesterday's visit, a British military attache toured the ships with a camera around his neck, identifying anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles. It must have been as though what used to be a lifetime's intelligence work was realised in half an hour's sightseeing.

Mr Hurd, in his loden coat, inspected a guard of honour, stood to attention as the band played 'God Save the Queen', was toasted in vodka, and accepted a miniature ship's wheel. Later at a press conference in Moscow, where he is to meet President Boris Yeltsin today, he described the visit as 'a bonus which I greatly value. Russian and British missiles no longer target each other's countries and that is something which was much remarked upon.'

He insisted that 'each partnership is special. That is what Partnership for Peace is all about,' but added: 'Obviously the partnership with Russia is going to be particularly rich.' He repeatedly described that partnership as 'no vetoes, no surprises', and admitted that 'we should avoid a situation such as occurred in Bosnia a few months ago'. A British diplomat added, however, that on the basis of discussions with Mr Kozyrev so far, 'they want more than we now can give them'.

Mr Hurd said that at today's meeting with Mr Yeltsin, he will hand over a letter from the Queen confirming acceptance of an invitation to visit Moscow this year.