Crans-Montana, June 24 (RFE/RL) -- Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev says he hopes Russia will eventually see NATO as a partner with which it can co-operate and not as an enemy.
Kozyrev was speaking to journalists at an international political conference in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana. He warned that it would be difficult to change the enemy image of NATO which existed in the minds of many Russians.
"Someone must have the courage to come to the Russian people and say NATO was never a real enemy. It was all blown up by the Communists like many other stupid lies," he said.
Kozyrev said he firmly believed that a way could be found to develop forms of co-operation with NATO. He said that when he was foreign minister he tried to move in this direction but was "overruled," and that was one reason why he is "no longer foreign minister." Kozyrev was dismissed by President Boris Yeltsin in January this year.
Kozyrev said he believed skilled diplomats could find a solution satisfactory to both sides. Asked about the planned expansion of NATO to include several countries from eastern and central Europe, Kozyrev said he believed there would be a "collision between the Russian and western positions on this issue before the end of the year."
Kozyrev said this in his opinion, "it is not in the best Russian interest to stand alone against the majority of West European states -- and East European. It is a bit like standing against the stream. You only get wet." He said it was essential that Russia should understand that NATO was not an enemy advancing on Russia but a friend which sometimes made mistakes.
Kozyrev was asked about the positions likely to be taken by the former general, Alexander Lebed, if he retains a powerful position after the second round of the Russian elections. He replied that Lebed had the ability to contribute positively to democratic developments in Russia.
Kozyrev said Lebed had an open mind with the ability to correct his position. He said Lebed had changed during the past two years. "There has been quite an evolution from a hardliner to someone who speaks of the need for law and order and means real law and order without the old communist connotations," he said. "He means law and order within the reform process."
But he said that like most other army officers Lebed had been subjected to communist indoctrination and still had room to develop. "In some areas there is still room for him to gain more experience in politics -- which he admits himself," Kozyrev said.
Kozyrev dismissed a question about whether it was possible that Lebed might emerge as the next President of Russia after Yeltsin. He said it was a little premature to consider who would be Yeltsin's successor before he had even been re-elected.
But he added that two strong personalities, such as Yeltsin and Lebed, could either make a strong team working together or become competitors.
In a comment on recent developments in Moscow, Kozyrev said he ruled out the possibility that senior officials had planned a possible coup d'etat.
"I rule out completely the possibility that the defence minister had actually contemplated a coup d'etat," he said. This was a reference to allegations made by some against former Defence Minister Pavel Grachev, who was recently dismissed by President Boris Yeltsin. Kozyrev said: "Conspiracies and possible coup d'etats exist only in the minds of those who talk about them."
However he added that the recent developments showed there was still considerable room for improvement in the funtioning of the Russian political system.
Kozyrev described the elections as a "tremendous historical leap" for Russia considering that until recently the notion of free and fair elections was not only unknown in Russia but prohibited.
He said he was convinced that the first round of elections had been free and fair and expected the second round to be equally fair. He said the ballot would be successful if the communist candidate lost.