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Russia Still Opposed to NATO Expansion

Prague, July 9 (RFE/RL) -- The re-election of Russian President Boris Yeltsin has brought no apparent change to Moscow's long-established stand on NATO's plans for eastward enlargement. Russia still opposes these plans.

That much was plainly confirmed yesterday by Yeltsin's foreign policy adviser Dimitri Ryurikov, who told a gathering of Central and Eastern European officials in the Austrian city of Salzburg that Yeltsin's victory "makes the enlargement of NATO an even more contentious issue than ever."

Russia has been consistently opposed to NATO expansion in the East, arguing that such a move would endanger Moscow's security. It expressed that view in recurrent official statements. This stand appeared to have been shared by large groups of Russian politicians and security analysts.

Some western officials and analysts suggested that Moscow's opposition to NATO plans might have been prompted by domestic political considerations. They said that it might have been fueled by the government's desire to appease fears and frustrations of nationalistic and communist groups in a situation in which Russia's international status had weakened considerably. And they said that this stand might change following Yeltsin's victory.

Ryurikov's statement suggests that such assumption might have been premature. Speaking with authority, Yeltsin's adviser emphasized that Yeltsin's victory - he described it as a victory for democracy - only strengthens Moscow's arguments that under these conditions NATO expansion would undermine,- rather than reinforce regional stability in the East.

Ryurikov was particularly harsh when talking about a possible NATO membership for the Baltic states. He complained about the treatment of Russian ethnic minorities in those countries, and warned that "Russia cannot remain indifferent to assurances that the Baltic states would join NATO." He stopped short of providing details on what Moscow's reaction could be in such a case.

But Ryurikov also said that Russia was both willing and determined to cooperate with NATO, hoping that the alliance would correspondingly adjust its operations and mission. "Russia would be ready to have contractual relations with a changing NATO," he said, "but not with an enlarging NATO."

And Ryurikov reiterated Moscow's constant demand: to be recognized as a major decision-making power. "One thing is important," he said, "Russia, a major European power, must be a full-fledged participant in decision-making on European security. Russia will not accept it when, on issues important to it, it is only being consulted and is left aside when decisions are made."

NATO has repeatedly said that any decisions on eastward enlargement would be taken by members alone, and that no outside country would be allowed to veto those decisions.

Russian officials have repeatedly attempted to challenge that position. Ryurikov's remarks constitute another move in that direction.

Meanwhile, this continuing toughness of Russia's views on NATO plans has provoked little or no excitement in Central Europe. None of the Eastern participants in the gathering specifically reacted to Ryurikov's statement.

In Washington yesterday, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski insisted in an address that "now is the critical time to open the door" of the Western alliance to new members to ensure political stability in Central Europe. He also mentioned that this would be in the interest of both Russia and the West.

U. S. President Bill Clinton told Kwasniewski that NATO would certainly expand.

Decisions on when NATO will expand, and which Eastern countries will be included in the first wave of enlargement, are likely to be taken at the annual NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting in December. They may be made public at the NATO summit in 1997.