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Skeptical West Debates Russia Security Plan

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana at a press conference in February

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana at a press conference in February

CORFU, Greece (Reuters) -- The West has looked at Russia's call for a new pan-Europe security pact but the EU's top diplomat said it must not undermine NATO.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana spoke on June 28 outside a 56-nation meeting of foreign ministers where Western delegates voiced reservations over Russia's proposal for a new security "architecture".

Ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) met a day after NATO and Russia restored formal cooperation on security threats frozen after Russia's military intervention in Georgia last year.

But there was no progress on keeping OSCE peace monitors in Georgia. Their mission expires on Tuesday and Moscow is blocking a decision to extend their presence by insisting on recognition of independence for Georgia's pro-Moscow, breakaway South Ossetia region and a separate OSCE mandate there.

Russia is worried over NATO's expansion and Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev has said Cold War-era institutions like the U.S.-led alliance are ill-equipped to defuse tensions in a multipolar world.

His proposed Treaty on European Security would grant equal status to participating countries, rule out military alliances adopting policies detrimental to the security of the other parties, and deny any country or alliance the right to maintain peace and stability on the continent.

"(This is) maybe the beginning of a serious process in which we will take a look at the architecture of security in Europe," Solana said before joining the closed-door meeting on the Greek island of Corfu.

But any pan-European pact must encompass not just "hard" -- or military security -- but also "soft" issues of economy and human rights and democratic governance, Solana, a former NATO secretary-general, told reporters.

"There are many (aspects of security) we can develop further (but) without putting at risk the basic structures that have provided fantastic stability for many, many years," Solana said, alluding to NATO and the OSCE. Russia's proposal stresses only "hard" security.

Western officials say Russia must ditch its old adversarial "sphere of influence" approach to security.

The West also criticizes Moscow for what it sees as a trend back to authoritarian rule at home and muscle-flexing in former Soviet republics such as Georgia.

The Kremlin accuses the United States trying to extend its geopolitical sway. The Russian military is concerned by U.S. plans for a missile shield in central Europe and possible future entry of ex-Soviet states like Georgia into NATO.

Russia and its Western counterparts in the OSCE stuck to opposing positions, participants said, but were looking for points in common ahead of a December OSCE summit in Athens.

"We heard a long complaint from Russia, (asking) to consider improvements in European security because in their view everything is falling apart," one European diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The Europeans don't see the need to change structures but there is a lot of readiness to discuss."

Another said: "Differences remain. A lot remains undone, but we're at the beginning of something."

Russia poured forces into Georgia last August to beat back Tbilisi's bid to retake the rebel South Ossetia region, and retains troops in the area.