Mr Primakov's remarks underlined the increasingly tough posture of Russian foreign policy since the armed forces and security agencies strengthened their power by enabling President Boris Yeltsin to defeat last month's parliamentary revolt.
Mr Primakov, speaking at a news conference in Moscow, said Nato's expansion 'would bring the world's biggest military grouping, with its colossal offensive potential, directly to Russia's borders. If this happened, the need would arise for a fundamental reappraisal of defence concepts on our side, a redeployment of armed forces and a change in operational plans.'
He said his intelligence service believed that Nato would decide in principle at a summit in January to extend membership to former Warsaw Pact countries. Nato sources say the alliance will limit itself to offering closer military ties with former Communist states, including Russia itself, but that it will not rule out eventual membership for certain Eastern European countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic.
Mr Primakov also suggested that hardliners in Russia's domestic policy and foreign affairs establishments would increase their power if Mr Yeltsin's government found it too expensive to match Nato's expansion. 'If the government could not provide for the necessary counter-measures, dissatisfaction could arise among those entrusted with national security. One should emphasise that such dissatisfaction is not in the interests of political or military reform,' he said.
These remarks appeared somewhat disingenuous, given the likelihood that Russia's most conservative and powerful ministries - defence, security and interior - are wielding more influence now than at any time in Mr Yeltsin's presidency. The heads of these ministries, Pavel Grachev, Nikolai Golushko and Viktor Yerin, all received awards or promotions after their decisive contributions to the suppression of the October revolt.
Moreover, even politicians regarded in the West as liberals, such as the foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, have spoken out in public against Nato's expansion and taken a firm line on issues such as the status of ethnic Russian minorities in former Soviet republics. Russia's view that it has a right to protect these minorities drew an angry response this week from the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who said it reminded him of Adolf Hitler's assertion of Nazi Germany's right to protect the Sudeten Germans of Czechoslovakia.
Mr Yeltsin caused alarm among the former Soviet republics last February when he proposed that the United Nations should grant Russia 'special powers' to ensure stability in these newly independent countries. In practice, Russian diplomats and troops are already heavily influencing the course of events in trouble- spots such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Tajikistan.
Russia also caused concern among Western countries recently by demanding changes to an East-West treaty on cutting conventional forces in Europe. Moscow argued that this agreement prevented it from deploying enough troops to suppress unrest in the northern Caucasus, but the West saw the demand as a sign that Russia might have concluded that it conceded too much to the West in the disarmament accords of the last six years.
Russia's opposition to Nato's expansion is troubling Poland and the Czech Republic, which see membership of the Atlantic alliance and the European Union as the best guarantee of their future security and prosperity. The Czechs, worried that the West will submit to Russia's demands on the Nato issue, are already speaking of a 'new Yalta' that will return them to Moscow's sphere of influence.
Poland's former foreign minister, Krzysztof Skubiszewski, said last month: 'It cannot be that the Cold War gives way to a cold peace that would essentially translate into the preservation of Europe's divisions.'
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