Grudging Russians to join Nato scheme

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The Independent Online
A GRUDGING Russia yesterday said it would sign up with Nato's vision of post-Cold War security in Europe, but a bout of diplomatic trench warfare cast a cold Soviet shadow over the process and reminded Western officials of why they were denying Moscow any formal role in the Nato alliance.

Forty foreign ministers from Nato, the former Warsaw Pact and neutral Finland and Sweden, had gathered in Istanbul for the biggest and supposedly most hopeful meeting yet of the North Atlantic Co-operation Council, but by the end of the afternoon only one of 16 Nato ministers was left in the room in a Bosporus-side Ottoman palace. 'It was a pretty bloody afternoon . . . it does not augur well,' said one senior Nato official after a joint statement was finally agreed. 'There was a fix in the end, but it took for ever. It was a real Soviet exercise.'

Most diplomats thought the row was more brinksmanship than break-up, but the Russians succeeded in poisoning the atmosphere and removing any reference by the council to Nato's goal of enlargement in Eastern Europe. 'It has been quite an experience for me,' said Nato's deputy secretary-general, Sergio Balanzino.

He added he simply could not tell if the performance represented a change in Russian policy. In fact, Russia's Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, made clear that Moscow would sign on to the five-month- old Western initiative on Partnership for Peace. He told a brief news conference that he hoped to visit Nato headquarters in Brussels 'in the near future to put into action both the Partnership for Peace and a framework agreement for co-operation with Russia'.

Mr Kozyrev was muted, melancholy-looking and had clearly been negotiating hard with the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. 'It's the last time I answer a question about Partnership for Peace,' he told a hall packed with 200 reporters. A sense of Moscow's reduced position in the world was reinforced when a call for a Russian journalist to ask a question produced only one volunteer.

'It is natural that it is not to their liking . . . (but) we said no,' said Germany's Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, referring to demands of Russian hardliners for a greater influence over Nato. 'Kozyrev said he would be signing without substantial surprises.'

Mr Kozyrev stuck to one point of Russian pride. Unlike 20 mostly former Soviet satellite states that have signed up for the Partnership for Peace and later returned to negotiate their individual parameters, he said he would only visit Brussels once to sign up for both pillars of Nato's new relationship with its former foe.

In Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin confirmed a basically co- operative Russian stance. 'With a vast army of 3 million this cannot be simple and Nato has agreed (to a protocol on military mechanisms),' he told a news conference. 'They will sign this protocol and we will sign that Partnership for Peace document. Certainly we will sign it. After all, even if some bureaucrats reject that protocol, we will sign it anyway.'

Mr Kozyrev explained to Western officials in Istanbul that the word protocol in Russian could mean 'agreed minutes' and spoke favourably of Thursday's Nato communique. Nato had offered Russia the standard Partnership for Peace agreement, a full individual partnership programme for which there will be informal preliminary talks and also an undefined and informal side understanding of a special role for Russia. 'These are elements that must be put into gear,' he said.