Brussels, June 17 (RFE/RL) - Russia is changing tactics in its efforts to prevent, or slow down, the enlargement of NATO.
At last week's meeting with the alliance's 16 defense ministers, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev finally confirmed that Moscow is ready to cooperate with NATO. But he also reiterated its strong objections to plans for expanding the alliance to take in Central and Eastern European countries.
"We are ready to develop relations with a non-enlarged alliance in the interests of pan-European security," he told the NATO ministers and then the full North Atlantic Cooperation Council, which groups the Alliance with all the cooperation partners from the former Warsaw Pact.
Although the general impressed all participants with his softer tone and a warmer look -- for the first time at a NATO meeting he was not in uniform -- nobody present had any doubt about the message: Russia's relations with NATO will be better if you do not enlarge.
"The Russians clearly held out a carrot," commented one NATO diplomat. "It is a change of tactics but not of substance," concluded another witness to General Grachev's performance on Friday.
The Russian minister was quick to follow his words with a promise of action. He agreed that a senior Russian general will be permanently posted at SHAPE, NATO's military headquarters in Mons, south of Brussels, next door to allied commander in Europe, U.S. General George Joulwan. Three other high-ranking Russian liaison officers will be posted to the alliance's three regional commands responsible for the northern, central and southern sections of Europe.
Russia is the first country from the former Warsaw Pact to be offered a place next to the NATO commander and at such a high level. The other countries in the Partnership for Peace program keep their liaison officers in a separate "co-operation cell" at SHAPE.
In return, the Russians said they would welcome two senior officers assigned permanently to the Russian general staff in Moscow.
And there was more. After months of keeping NATO guessing, Grachev also agreed to NATO's proposals for cooperation on joint weapons development, anti-proliferation measures, disarmament, a ballistic missile defense system, fighting terrorism and drugs and mutual prevention of "technological surprises".
General Grachev repeated Russia's hope that the alliance will become eventually only one element of a broader security structure based on OSCE and again praised the cooperation with NATO over Bosnia.
For Moscow, that operation is the best example that the Partnership for Peace program is adequate and that NATO enlargement is unnecessary.
Furthermore, diplomats observed, the NATO operation is something of a stick for Russia to use against the West. The closing section of Grachev's speech was quite explicit on this point. "To prolong the timescale of the operation, a new mandate will be needed by the United Nations Security Council, along with the specification of the purposes of that prolongation and the tasks of the implementation force. Russia will make its dignified contribution," Grachev said.
"They couldn't have put it more clearly," commented one security analyst. "They will play with us in Bosnia if we play with them elsewhere." Once already, he observed, NATO appeared to put enlargement on the back-burner as it sought Russian approval for the setting-up of I-FOR. Is the pattern about to be repeated?