Brussels, March 14 (RFE/RL) - Russia's Minister for Emergency Situations, Sergei Shoygu, has signed a letter of intent on conditions for cooperation between his ministry and NATO. Shoygu met NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and signed the letter this week during Shoygu's first visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Our Brussels correspondent says the letter is expected to be followed soon by the signing in Moscow of a memorandum of understanding. and the correspondent says the text is expected to outline areas of cooperation between Shoygu's Emergency Situations Ministry and NATO. The focus is expected on humanitarian assistance and reaction to natural disasters.
Next year, plans call for a high-level meeting in Moscow among various emergency planning departments to be arranged under NATO's "Partnership For Peace" program.
Shoygu emphasized that all cooperation programs between his ministry and NATO will take place under the direction of the United Nations. Shoygu said, "you do not have to be a NATO member to work with NATO. you could be a partner," he said.
Among the successes Shoygu claimed for his ministry is the transporting of food and other humanitarian aid to former Yugoslavia.
Our correspondent notes that Russia's current Ambassador to Brussels, Vitaly Churkin, was formerly the special presidential envoy to former Yugoslavia and that Churkin was instruemental last year in negotiating the dispatch of Russian troops to Bosnia to serve alongside American solders in the NATO-led, peace-implementation force.
Our correspondent yesterday asked Shoygu about his ministry's role in Chechnya. Shoygu said there had been a series of concrete measures, most notably sending food and medicines, opening hospitals and "generally, trying to re-establish normal living conditions." "Believe me," said Shoygu, "we are (the ministry) not very happy with this kind of work." "I mean," he said, "there are enough problems related to natural disasters, and we could certainly use what we have for coping with these."
Shoygu yesterday also met the European Union's (EU) Commissioner Responsible for Humanitarian Aid, Emma Bonino. Bonino asked that Moscow permit humanitarian aid for Chechnya to flow more freely. since the Kremlin's military intervention in Chechnya began, the EU has allocated more than 20-million dollars in humanitarian aid to Chechnya. A field assessment team was recently dispatched to Moscow and Grozny.
Moscow insists all aid must pass through official channels.
Bonino cited examples of harassment of european aid teams by Russian soldiers and by pro-Russian authorities in Chechnya.