Wary Russia strikes deal with Nato

FRussia yesterday refused to soften its opposition to Nato expansion to the east and called on the alliance to abandon its military role and become a purely political organisation. But Moscow did agree to two new pacts bringing it closer to the alliance.

"Preserving [the] current Nato as a purely military bloc would run counter to the trends of moulding a single Europe,'' said Andrei Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister.

Russia agreed a deal setting out its participation in Partnership for Peace, and another laying out a framework for a special relationship with the alliance. But Mr Kozyrev used the meeting with Nato foreign ministers in the Netherlands to reassert Moscow's interests.

''The world is now safer than four hours ago,'' said one foreign minister later. While few would match his hyperbole, there was a sense of relief that Mr Kozyrev had finally settled Russia's participation in Nato's scheme for building links between East and West.

But Mr Kozyrev was adamant that Nato enlargement was a hostile act. ''We continue to believe that it does not meet either the interests of Russia's national security or the interest of European security as a whole,'' he said. ''Furthermore, the hasty resolution of the issue may threaten the establishment of truly mutually advantageous and constructive relations between Russia and Nato.''

In an article in this week's European newspaper, Anatoly Admashin, Russia's ambassador to Britain, suggests a moratorium on enlargement until the end of 1996. This idea seems to be informally taking shape as the way to avoid a clash on the issue before Russia's presidential elections next year.

Willy Claes, Nato's Secretary-General, sought to soothe Russian worries. ''Russia and Nato have it in their power to become valued friends, leaving behind for good the remnants of past mistrust and suspicion,'' he said, telling Mr Kozyrev: ''Your country has a special part and responsibility in the building of a new security order in Europe.''

Mr Kozyrev's hostility went further than enlargement, however. ''If the alliance wishes in practice to become a part of the pan-European security system, it must transform itself from a military alliance to a political organisation,'' he said.

Mr Claes responded: ''Nato has always been a political alliance founded on common democratic values, uniting the member countries in the protection of their territorial integrity and independence.''

But Mr Kozyrev said that if Nato does not transform itself, ''we would need to clarify whom Nato is going to defend itself against. If one has in mind Russia, it is obvious this would mean creating new dividing lines in Europe.''

Mr Claes batted back that the admission of new members ''is not directed against Russia nor does it diminish the national security interests of Russia''.

To assuage Moscow's concerns, Russia and the alliance will develop a consultative mechanism by the end of the year aimed at creating a special relationship. Mr Claes may visit Moscow later this year.

But it was emphasised yesterday that Russia has no veto on Nato actions, nor on its enlargement; and though the alliance is keen to keep Russia informed, it is intent on maintaining its own strategy for a new security order in Europe.

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