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Western Press Review: NATO Listens To The Bear's Growls But Marches Onward Anyway

PRAGUE, 7 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary remains as mixed on NATO's eastward expansion plans as do Eastern and Western leaders, even as a flurry of diplomatic activity tried in recent days to mollify Russian antagonism.

DIE WELT: Russia ought to accept the inevitable

In the German newspaper today, Mathias Bruggmann comments that there's even a split in views within the Kremlin itself -- on how best to oppose NATO.

Bruggman says that Russia ought to accept the inevitable. He writes: "Imagination knows no bounds in Moscow as it searches for ways to prevent NATO's enlargement to the east in the run-up to its Madrid summit. The Duma has decided that this year the anniversary of victory over the Third Reich -- celebrated in Moscow on May 9 -- will be observed as the 'Day against NATO expansion.' " He says: 'Yet the Kremlin has understood that it can no longer prevent NATO enlargement. It is still demanding conditions in negotiations with NATO over its future relations with Russia, which the alliance is unable to fulfill."

Bruggman comments: "Behind the scenes at the Kremlin, a tug-of-war is taking place, with disagreement over whether it makes sense for Moscow to sign a charter with the NATO states that is not legally binding. Any secret hopes that more could be extracted via Bonn were smashed at Boris Yeltsin's meeting with Helmut Kohl in Baden-Baden, at the latest."

The commentary continues: "All Moscow's deliberations cannot hide the fact that the Kremlin has no real way of preventing eastward enlargement -- apart from loud threats and the search for new allies to irritate the West." It concludes: "So Russia is standing with its back to the wall. It would be well advised to take a more rational stand on the question of eastward enlargement of NATO. But the West ought to be clear that Moscow may well try to destroy an agreement with NATO at the last moment, and try to realize Yeltsin's threat of a 'cold peace'."

WASHINGTON POST: Negotiations with Russia endanger the West

An editorial yesterday said that the West is in danger of giving too much away in seeking accommodation with Russia. A proposed consultation mechanism could result in a de facto Russian veto over NATO decisions, The Post worried. The editorial said: "The United States is skirting a political danger zone in its negotiations with Russia over the proposed NATO-Russia 'charter.' The charter is part consolation prize for Russia's acceptance of NATO enlargement and part exercise in post-Cold War cooperation. It is meant to ease the anxieties many Russians feel as they see an alliance they had come to perceive as hostile moving closer to their shrunken borders, and to induce deeper collaboration with the West. The problem is whether the allies, in their good-faith effort not to put Russia at a further strategic or political disadvantage, are diluting the alliance with imprudent military pledges and affording Moscow a veto in the name of 'consultation.'

The Post said: "Diplomatic art led the alliance to say that it has 'no intention, no plan and no reason' to deploy nuclear arms on the territory of new member states, and that it has no current plans to station permanently 'substantial' combat forces." The editorial concluded: "The process of enlarging the alliance should not leave it less capable of providing either defense or stability. It would be good to have the complicated business of a charter wrapped up in the few weeks remaining before NATO decides on a first round of enlargement. But the matter is too important to be rushed."

LONDON GUARDIAN: The charter is a vital part of reassuring Russia

In a news analysis today, diplomatic editor Ian Black says that Russia's administration is resigned to signing a NATO-Russia charter that falls short of the reassurances it has sought. Black calls the charter "vital" to NATO eastward expansion. He writes: "The NATO-Russia charter is a vital part of a long-running effort to redraw the strategic map by admitting former communist countries to NATO while reassuring a nervous Moscow that the alliance has abandoned its Cold War role."

Black says: "The charter will set up a joint council with Russia, giving Moscow a voice, but not a veto, in important decisions affecting its security interests in Europe." He adds: "By publicly raising expectations of imminent agreement, (Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny) Primakov may be trying to pressure NATO into making further clarifications, despite the alliance's insistence that the United States has reached its bottom line."

NEW YORK TIMES: Russia backs off on a demand

Over the weekend, Michael R. Gordon wrote from Moscow in a news analysis that in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Primakov backed off what had been a Russian demand. Gordon said: "Russia dropped a major demand Friday on limiting NATO's military forces, improving the prospects that the two sides will meet a May 27 target date for completing an agreement between the alliance and its former adversary."

Gordon wrote: "The change involves Russia's demand that overall limits be set on the number of weapons an expanded NATO would be permitted to have. Russia made this proposal in an effort to inhibit the alliance from taking in new members." He said: "While Moscow's decision to drop its proposal removes a major diplomatic stumbling block, Russia has other ways to influence the level of NATO forces in Europe."

The analysis said: "Addressing Russian worries, NATO has informed Moscow that it has no current plans permanently to station substantial numbers of foreign forces on the territory of new members." Gordon wrote: "Another indication of Russian interest in an accord was apparent Thursday when Yeltsin telephoned Albright and Primakov and urged them to redouble their effort to reach agreement."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Critics anticipate great costs

Peter Slevin recently analyzed some of the expansion questions. Western critics of the plan anticipate costs of billions of dollars, he said, and supporters contend that the contribution to stability in Europe will be worth it.

Slevin wrote: "Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spent 23 hours last week on an airplane, flying 9,000 miles, for a few hours of pointed talks about NATO with Russia's foreign minister. Albright said she traveled halfway around the world to make sure NATO's planned expansion toward Russia was done right. But there may be no right answer to a project as complex as the redesign of Europe's 49-year-old security architecture."

He said: "Doubters question the billions in costs and ask who will pay. Other skeptics predict that NATO will lose its cohesion. Still others charge that the western alliance, created in 1949 to deter Soviet aggression, is drawing a perilous new dividing line in Europe."

Slevin said: "Albright, well aware of the nay saying, is working to build support in Congress and Russia alike. She wants to convince the Americans that NATO's plan makes good sense while reassuring the Russians that the alliance's tanks and planes pose no threat. The payoff, in the administration's view, will be a more stable Central Europe where new democracies face west and the United States continues to play a leading role."