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Moscow Maintains Opposition to NATO Expansion

Brussels, March 1 (RFE/RL) - Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov says NATO enlargement will put Moscow at a political, military and psychological disadvantage. But, while continuing to oppose enlargement, Primakov says the Cold War is over. "Russia will not bang the table, or order anyone not to joint NATO," he said on a visit this week to Slovakia. However, says Primakov, Moscow will insist that its views be taken into consideration.

Yet Slovakia's President Michal Kovac and Foreign Minister Juraj Schenk seemed to display little trepidation as each, in turn, spoke of Slovakia's "firm determination" to join NATO, and that Slovakia "is not going to change its mind by any means" about NATO membership.

Primakov continued to explore the argument he has pursued since becoming Foreign Minister last month: that NATO means new lines of division, new confrontation in Europe. He again spoke of the need to develop a new security system for Europe, a system he said that would "not throw us (Russia) back."

Primakov also spoke of economic interests, saying it is in Slovakia's interest that its goods are exported to Russia. But as quickly as he had changed the subject to economic links, he leaped back to NATO. "Do not get too involved with NATO," he warned. "NATO comes and goes. Nations remain," he said. He did not mention the USSR or the Warsaw Pact.

The United States has again sought to explain how it hopes Russia can come to share Washington's vision of a new security structure for Europe. This week, it was U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry calling on Moscow to take a leading role in NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program. And Perry repeated U.S. themes about NATO not being a threat to Russia, but rather enhancing Russia's security as the alliance spreads stability across Europe. Perry admitted that Russia has not being persuaded, but he said the U.S. will continue to try.

The new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe have been told that in order to join NATO, they must bring their arms industries up to Western standards, but they do not know - and NATO has not told them - what this means.

NATO spokesman Francois le Blevennec says there is a basic contradiction. Le Blevennec tells our Brussels correspondent that the only true standardization of weapons and military hardware existed in the former Warsaw Pact. He says that such a standardization in the West is inconceivable, as each Western country has developed and fiercely protects its own defense industries.

Le Blevennec says what the West really practices is "mutual compatibility," which does not always work. He notes difficulty in the Gulf War, but he says capabilities have been improved with the NATO-led, peace-keeping force in Bosnia.