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Russia/NATO: Yavlinsky Discusses NATO Expansion

Prague, 14 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The leader of Russia's democratic opposition movement, Yabloko, Grigory Yavlinsky says that while Czechs, Poles and Hungarians can be confident to gain an early entry into NATO, it will take much longer for them to join the European Union (EU).

Yavlinsky made these comments last night at a seminar in Prague to an audience of government leaders, diplomats and journalists. He said he viewed NATO expansion is a substitute for EU enlargement because a speedy admission of such countries as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to EU would, in his opinion, be politically unacceptable for some EU member states. He mentioned France and Spain as the main opponents.

Yavlinsky said NATO expansion is an issue that the Czechs, the Poles and others will have to resolve with NATO bureaucrats. In his words, "Russia has no right to teach Warsaw, Budapest or Prague or anyone else which alliance to join," and he added, "no country has the right to tell another sovereign country what to do."

Noting that NATO was established in response to the Soviet military threat, Yavlinsky insisted that Russia no longer poses a threat to Europe. He said that in the future Russia will have common strategic interests with Western Europe and North America, although, as he put it, "we can have tactical differences along the way."

Yavlinsky said that Europe still faces serious threats from the East. These threats, he said, were reinforced following the collapse of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But these threats, he said, are commonly shared by both Europe and Russia; they include the threats of terrorism and ecological dangers. He recalled in this context the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the lingering legacy of deactivated chemical and nuclear weapons and the recent suicide of the director of the Chelyabinsk-70 military research facility, who complained that he could no longer guarantee the security of his unpaid 50,000 employees in this still closed city.

Yavlinsky maintained that NATO is not capable of dealing with these new challenges on its own. Moreover, he warned that NATO's experience with IFOR and SFOR in Bosnia can not serve as an example for any NATO operations in the East be because, he said, NATO will never involve itself on the territory of the former Soviet Union.

Explaining NATO expansion to Russian voters will not be easy he said, adding that as far as he is concerned, NATO expansion does not pose a threat to Russia. But he also said that NATO expansion is a negative issue in Russian domestic politics. In his words, "NATO expansion is... bad for Russian democracy,... a bad thing for Russian foreign policy and a diplomatic defeat for those left out." He warned that signing a treaty expanding NATO eastwards will be comparable in its effect on Russia to the ill-fated Treaty of Versailles in 1919 had on Germany.

Yavlinsky predicted that NATO expansion will make any changes in the personnel or structure of the Russian Army's general staff much more difficult to bring about. Yavlinsky said these changes are needed because the real threats to Russia do not emanate from the West, but, as he put it, from the "South and Southeast". He suggested that NATO expansion is pushing Russia into forming a military bloc with Belarus, a move he describes as "bad for Russia."

Yavlinsky was an unsuccessful contestant in the first round of the Russian presidential elections last year. Diplomats and analysts say he has virtually no chance of ever being elected to lead Russia because he is too much of an intellectual and does not appeal to ordinary Russians.

Asked what Russia needs from its friends in the West, Yavlinsky responded that Russia needs honesty, open and direct talks as among friends, and... "moral, intellectual and political support with clear statements as to what is white and what is black."

Yavlinsky conceded that Russia will not be a democratic country for many, many years to come. It took 500 years to create a civil society in Europe, he said, while Russia started building a civil society just four years ago.