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Russia's Kokoshin Makes Controversial Remarks In Munich

Munich, Feb. 6 (RFE/RL) - Russia's First Deputy Defence Minister Andrej Kokoshin aroused international interest at the weekend, when he distributed a statement at a symposium on European security, which took a hardline view of the eastward expansion of NATO.

Kokoshin adopted a somewhat softer approach in his speech to the Munich Symposium, although he stood firm about Russia's negative approach to NATO enlargement. Most of the comment by other delegates was based on the remarks in the written paper, which was widely circulated among delegates and the international press.

Today's respected Munich newspaper "Suddeutsche Zeitung" carried this report about the reaction to Kokoshin's comments:

"Andrej Kokoshin is a round man with a friendly appearance, from whom, at first, one expects little aggression and readiness for conflict. However, the Russian (first) Deputy Defence Minister shocked the NATO elite...with a collection of seldom-heard attacks on the Alliance, immediately prompting the usual reflexes from the hawks among the U.S. Senators." (Six members of the U.S. Senate attended the symposium.)

"However," the newspaper account continues, "the government politicians from the Alliance States reacted calmly. A member of the German delegation gave the soothing opinion that Kokoshin's hard remarks were mostly intended for his report to Moscow - nothing else was possible half a year before the Presidential election."

"However, in his speech Kokoshin referred only briefly to what must stir him most as minister responsible for armaments. The former members of the Warsaw Pact turn ever more to the West for their arms purchases, and allow the Russian defence industry to feel the hard laws of the market economy. The military-industrial complex has blamed NATO for the change in direction of the states of central and eastern europe." (In his speech Kokoshin made a brief reference to NATO countries taking some of Russia's arms market. He said Russia had lost many weapons markets which it had previously dominated.)

Kokoshin added: "We depend on the export of arms more than the U.S. or France."

The article in the "Suddeutsche Zeitung" also noted that Saturday evening (after his speech) Kokoshin joined Germany's Defence Minister Volker Ruehe in a cheerful evening at a Munich restaurant. Kokoshin invited members of a German gun association at the next table to visit him in Moscow.

Kokoshin is the only civilian in the top echelons of Russia's Defense Ministry. Last month, he was also appointed to the post of State Secretary. The ministry said this new position would give Kokoshin more influence in dealing with the federal assembly. And defense officials have said they hope his higher profile will give him more influence over the military budget process, the development of military technology and international military cooperation.

Last month, Kokoshin also presented to President Boris Yeltsin the 1996 arms program. Although a financing plan is not yet worked out, the program specifies what each defense plant should produce. Yeltsin was quoted as saying the government must now determine how to pay for the orders within the existing budget. Yeltsin had described the absence of an arms-defense program as "outrageous," but experts say it is not clear whether Kokoshin's draft is either workable or affordable.