BORIS YELTSIN'S spokesman cast fresh doubt yesterday over Russian participation in Partnership for Peace (PFP), suggesting Moscow should only join the Nato scheme if it was also accepted as a full member of the G7 club of leading economic powers.
Vyacheslav Kostikov told a Kremlin briefing that the kind of military co-operation which Nato wants to replace Cold War suspicion would be difficult without economic co-ordination. 'How can we talk about such co-operation (PFP), abstracting ourselves from economic co-operation?' he asked. 'You know that Russia wants to join G7. Why shouldn't these two problems be linked? If we are invited to co-operate in political and military spheres, why shouldn't this be expanded to economic co-operation?'
The G7 countries - Britain, the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy - regularly invite Mr Yeltsin to their summits and are ready to formalise political co-operation with Moscow. But they say Russia has not yet achieved the economic greatness to match its physical size and it is therefore too early for it to be included in the club's discussions on the world economy.
Mr Kostikov's latest comments will unsettle Nato. Two weeks ago Russian Foreign Ministry officials had to step in and reassure the West that Moscow would be keeping its promise and signing up for PFP after the Kremlin spokesman had said Russia might take up to six months to make up its mind about participation. Whether there is confusion in the Kremlin or whether Russia is deliberately blowing hot and cold with the West is not clear.
Partnership for Peace, which envisages joint projects between Nato and countries once lined up against the West in the old Warsaw Pact, was created more or less for Russia's benefit. Moscow had objected to the idea of East European states such as Poland and Hungary joining Nato, saying this would leave Russia out in the cold.
So when President Bill Clinton came to Moscow in January, he offered PFP, which would include Russia as well.
Hardliners in parliament such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky oppose PFP outright and, with that lobby in mind, some officials have been suggesting that Russia should get special status within the Partnership to reflect its nuclear might.
The mixed signals over PFP are in keeping with a generally more prickly tone in Moscow's foreign-policy statements. Yesterday Mr Kostikov said the 'romantic embrace' between East and West was over and this was no bad thing, as both sides were beginning to be more realistic about each other. So far, however, hurt pride has not led Russia to pick a serious row with the West, and co-operation continues.
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