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Russia: Arms Contracts Could Sweeten Bitter Pill Of NATO Expansion

Moscow, 28 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - An executive in a major Russian military industrial conglomerate says that if Russia can't stop NATO's plans for eastward expansion, it should insist that contracts for aircraft upgrades, trainers, and integration of the new member states' airforces into the alliance should go to Moscow, to sweeten the deal.

Alexander Ageev heads marketing and strategic planning for the Moscow Aviation Production Organization (MAPO). MAPO groups together corporate units and plants building Mikoyan aircraft (MiG), Klimov engines, Kamov helicopters, avionics, and other components, plus a bank.

Ageev told RFE/RL in a recent interview in Moscow that "this is a practical way to bring our country closer to NATO by industrial means." He went on to say that "Russia can enjoy some of the benefits of NATO expansion, while NATO can cut the cost of integrating the new member states. Both sides can reduce suspicion of each other this way, too."

The idea of military procurements in Russia to smooth the way for NATO expansion has not been raised before; Ageev acknowledged that. "I don't know if Mr. Primakov has proposed it. But if he hasn't yet, he is likely to."

Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov has been negotiating with NATO's secretary-general Javier Solana to fix terms for the alliance's expansion that would mitigate Russia's opposition to the move. Primakov has stopped short of revealing what specific measures he is seeking.

President Boris Yeltsin's foreign policy advisor, Dmitri Ryurikov, has also declined to respond to questions. But he hinted last week that a formal ban on nuclear weapons and nuclear delivery systems on the new NATO territories is one of Moscow's demands. Another, reported to have been discussed with US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, is setting a strict limit on troops and conventional weapons in Central Europe.

Yeltsin said last Sunday he believed that a "compromise will be found" when he and President Bill Clinton meet on March 20 in Helsinki. Each branch of the Russian military bureaucracy is now actively bidding to have their interests included in the terms of that compromise.

Ageev is clearly concerned that Russian military industry could suffer serious losses when Central European countries, traditional customers of Russian arms, integrate with the western alliance. "NATO expansion can create new barriers," Ageev said. "We are against this. We can go forward to the East European market together and help lower the bill NATO and U.S. taxpayers would have to pay for integration."

Ageev is essentially a skillful salesman. He was one of the strategists behind the MiG-29 sale to the Malaysian Airforce two years ago and is said to be currently negotiating new MiG-29 and MiG jet trainer deals in Eastern Europe, South Africa, South America, and the Philippines. Last year, he held talks with Mc Donnell Douglas, builder of the US F-18, to join forces in a bid to have the US Air Force buy the MiG-AT, the latest Russian trainer. Ageev says that French companies such as engine-builder Snecma, and Turbomeca and Sextant are collaborating in the production of the MiG-AT.

Until now Russia's approach to the issue of the NATO's planned eastward expansion has been rooted exclusively in its political considerations. Ageev suggests that this approach should be changed for reasons of economy. It is unlikely that his suggestion will find much support within MoscowUs political establishment. At least not for some time to come.