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Russia: NATO Expansion Likely Topic At OSCE Summit

  • Jan de Weydenthal

Prague, 27 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Russia has again reiterated its opposition to NATO's plans to expand eastward, signaling Moscow's intention to use the forthcoming pan-European meeting to press for an alternative security system.

Speaking yesterday in Paris, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin complained about "obstinacy demonstrated by certain forces" in the West in pursuing the plans for NATO eastward expansion. He also said that these plans were being made "without regard to legitimate national security concerns of Russia."

Chernomyrdin went on to say that the forthcoming summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to be held in Lisbon next week should provide a forum to "start a process to put into place a new security architecture for Europe." Chernomyrdin is to head the Russian delegation to the summit.

Chernomyrdin's remarks were consistent with the long-standing Moscow policy of opposing NATO's plans for taking new members in the East. Russia's opposition to the expansion has been expressed through countless statements and declarations. But Moscow has also gradually come to admit that it is powerless to prevent the move.

Only last week, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov said in Moscow that NATO eastward expansion "is not acceptable to Russia." But he also said that the Western alliance has every right to decide on new members.

Under these circumstances, Russia's efforts seem to focus on finding ways to blunt the blow somewhat through diplomatic maneuvering and political bargaining.

This, at least, could be construed from Chernomyrdin's insinuations that only "certain forces" in the West were "obstinate" about the NATO enlargement. The Prime Minister stopped short of naming those "certain forces," but it could be presumed that he was speaking about the United States.

Chernomyrdin emphasized the Europeans must "be able to decide their destiny without advice from outside." And then he called for a "privileged partnership" between France and Russia in order to "build Europe without dividing lines."

Paris and Washington are currently at odds over the allocation of the southern NATO command: France insists that it should go to the Europeans but the United States is determined to preserve American control. Russia appears using the conflict to drive a wedge between the Western allies.

These tactics are likely to be pursued in Lisbon, where Moscow is certain to press for the enhancement of the OSCE's role in European security arrangement. Russia has long sought to make the OSCE the linchpin of the pan-European security system. The West gives this role to the NATO alliance, a view shared by most Central European countries aspiring to NATO membership.

Russia is also likely to use the Lisbon summit to bolster its position in view of possible bargaining with NATO itself. Outlining some aspects of the Russian negotiating strategy, Russia's First Deputy Defense Minister Igor Ivanov has recently told a military newspaper "Red Star" that Moscow plans to persuade NATO to refrain from basing Western troops on the territory of prospective Central European members, and to halt any increase in their military potential. And, Ivanov said, those restrictions should be put within "a framework of formal accords being fixed in Lisbon."

To strengthen its bargaining position, Russia is also likely to link the issue of NATO expansion with that of arms limitations in Europe. Moscow has insisted for some time that basic arms limitation treaties, particularly the one concerned with conventional forces (CFE), should be revised to take account of changes resulting from the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.

And, Russia wants to negotiate a formal charter regulating its relations with NATO. The West has proposed a flexible relationship centered on cooperation. Moscow insists that it be defined in binding terms, setting out mutual rights, obligations and, of course, the manner of decision-making.

The Lisbon summit is the first in a series of meetings and conferences focused on European security issues. Next month, NATO foreign and defense ministers are to confer in Brussels on the expansion and relations with Russia. Next year, a NATO summit is to issue invitations to first group of Eastern countries to join the alliance.