Russia prepares to partner Nato

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The Independent Online
Nato and Russia are moving closer to a "strategic partnership" which may be enshrined in a Nato-Russian charter - a non-aggression and cooperation pact - which will remove Russian objections to Nato's expansion plans.

In the past week the components of a co-operation package, which could include Nato help for Russia outside Europe, have emerged in a series of meetings and conferences. The Russian security supremo Alexander Lebed visited Nato in Brussels last week and there were conferences in Copenhagen and Antalya. A strategic partnership between Nato and Russia - "16 plus one " - will also be discussed during a three-day visit to Russia by William Perry, US Defense Secretary, which began yesterday.

Before he arrived Dr Perry warned Russia that refusal to ratify the Start-2 Treaty would have no effect on Nato's plans to expand to embrace East European countries, and would cost Moscow and Washington billions of dollars. Last week, the former Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev stressed the need for constructive dialogue in a speech in Copenhagen.

"Rather than have a counter-productive debate about whether or not to have enlargement there should be more time devoted to looking for ways to protect Russian interests," Mr Kozyrev said. "Years have been wasted. By now Russia should have cooperated with Nato ... Nato will expand and the Russian leadership will have to find a pragmatic solution to that reality

"There is a real risk that hardliners in Moscow will present Nato expansion as a humiliation of Russia, not as an achievement. That is because so much time has been wasted in building up a Nato-Russian Treaty. Nevertheless, the general trend towards Nato-Russian co-operation is irreversible."

Co-operation between Nato and Russia is crucial to ensure the implementation of the Start 2 strategic arms treaty, which will reduce superpower nuclear warheads from 6,000 each to fewer than 3,500 each by 2003.

The Russians also want the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty recast to reflect the demise of one of the military blocs that signed it. Nato currently has three times the military strength of the Commonwealth of Independent States countries - the former Soviet Union. The balance will shift to four to one if East European countries join Nato.

Although there is no draft of a Nato-Russian charter, Nato accepts the principle. Nato does not like the idea of a "non-aggression pact" because that implies Nato might have aggressive designs, and the language could be used as an argument against further Nato expansion. It also wants the document to be non-legally binding, because a legally binding one would have to be ratified by the parliaments of all the Nato countries and Russia.

Such a document would probably be in three parts: a prologue, pledging cooperation and citing laudable aims; a second section pledging consultation on European security issues and possibly the creation of new institutions, and a third section pledging cooperation on detailed issues including drugs, nuclear proliferation and joint exercises.

The co-operation could also extend beyond Europe, into central Asia. The prospect was raised when Mr ed visited Brussels last week, it emerged on Saturday. German General Klaus Naumann, the top military officer in Nato's political wing, told the conference in Antalya that he had spent an hour with Mr Lebed last week. He said Nato would accept "neither vetoes nor conditions" on its enlargement. Although Mr Lebed has publicly attacked Nato's expansion to embrace East European countries, General Naumann said they had discussed a triple package relating to the question.

It included Nato enlargement; enhancing the Partnership for Peace initiative involving co-operation with those East European countries including Russia which did not wish to join Nato or might not be in the first wave; and a "real strategic partnership with Russia".

General Naumann said if he were the chief of the Russian general staff he would see possible threats to the west, south and east.

In the west, General Naumann said, "we offer them assurance that Nato will remain calm, that there is no risk. In the south we offer co-operation with Nato."

When questioned on how far south this co-operation would go, General Naumann said the discussions had just embraced the "immediate neighbours of Russia as Russia is right now. Nato has no intention of going further south, and has no capabilities to do so."