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Russia: Should Russia Look Eastward, Too?

Moscow, 2 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Some top security analysts say that Russia will not -- and should not -- seek a tight alliance with either China or India to counter NATO's planned expansion eastward.

Nikolai Leonov, former head of the late KGB's Analytical Directorate, told our correspondent in an interview that Russia should remain friends, but not allies, with the Asian nations.

The Kremlin has enjoyed warm relations with the government in New Delhi for decades. Russia's relations with China have been less stable, roller-coastering from alliance in the 1950s to border clashes in the 1960s and back to a dramatic improvement in 1989, after former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Beijing.

Both India and China have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on purchases of Russian-made weaponry.

China is reported second only to India on the list of clients for Russian arms exports, with dozens of Russian-made fighters already acquired. China already has announced plans to buy a wide range of anti-aircraft systems and several warships from Moscow. Both countries have trained hundreds of military officers in Russian military academies.

Even so, Leonov said, deeper ties for Russia with China and India will develop only gradually.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin recently vowed to make better friends with China and India. In his March 26 radio address, following the Helsinki Summit, Yeltsin promised to develop what he termed "cooperation" with them. The remarks were interpreted widely as a response to NATO expansion. Last week, Yeltsin met Indian Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen.

After meeting Yeltsin, Qian Qichen said his country will cooperate with Russia to ensure stability in Asia. But, he was also quoted as saying China will be uninterested in participating in any military bloc countering NATO.

Another prominent security analyst, Leonid Shebarshin, former head of the KGB's Foreign Intelligence Directorate, said that among the negative consequences of military alliances would be: Sharp disapproval in the West. Heightened military expenditures. Unacceptable for Russia's depressed economy.

Moreover, he said, Russia should delay commitments to any military cooperation, even within the CIS, until Moscow overcomes its own dire economic hardships. As the analyst put it: "No one would want to ally with an equally weak force."