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Russia: NATO Warned Against Expansion To Former Soviet Republics

Moscow, 23 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgency Primakov today is scheduled to brief the State Duma on the Russia-NATO agreement. And, the Kremlin has repeated that it might radically review its foreign policy priorities and its relations with the West, including the "Founding Act" to be signed next week in Paris, if NATO attempts expansion to former Soviet republics.

Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky yesterday said NATO's expansion "at the expense of post-Soviet space, including the three Baltic republics" would be "unacceptable" for Russia. He was speaking in Moscow at a round-table on relations between Russia and NATO.

Earlier in the week, Yastrzhembsky had said Russia's President Boris Yeltsin had made the same remarks during a meeting with leaders of the Communist and nationalist-dominated Federal Assembly. Yeltsin had said, "if NATO begins to take decisions without taking account of Russia's opinion, Russia will review its relation with the Alliance."

Foreign Minister Primakov and NATO Secretary General Javier Solana agreed to a new security partnership last week, after months of tough negotiations. Yeltsin and U.S. President Clinton will sign the Russia-NATO accord hammered out by Primakov and Solana. The "Founding Act," as it is called, is aimed at reassuring Moscow that the eastward expansion of NATO will not threaten Russia's security .

The security deal sets up a new Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council, with monthly meetings among ambassadors, and twice-yearly gatherings of foreign and defense ministers. The "Founding Act" gives Russia a consultative voice in -- but not a veto on -- NATO affairs, and offers Moscow some assurances on limiting military operations on the territories of new members of the Alliance.

NATO will invite potential new members from Eastern Europe to open accession negotiations at the July summit in Madrid. However, Russia remains opposed to NATO expansion, expected initially to bring in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. And, in addition, NATO has said no outside country can veto who joins the Alliance in the future.

Possible NATO membership for the Baltic republics, where sizeable ethnic Russian minorities live, is a very sensitive issue for Russia. The Baltic states view NATO membership as a shield against Russian domination. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia this week reitereted their strong desire to join NATO. Lithuania's President Algirdas Brazauskas said Vilnius was "forcefully incorporated into the Soviet Union, and does not consider itself a former Soviet republic."

Yeltsin has said that after the agreement is signed in Paris, he will send it to the Federal Assembly for approval and possible revision. Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin had suggested parliamentary leaders add a clause that the accord will be broken if NATO ever invites any former Soviet republic ever to join the Alliance.

NATO officials have said the "Founding Act" does not have to be ratified by parliaments of signatory countries, as it is a political document and not a treaty.

However, Yastrzhembsky said it is "widespread international practice" for parliaments to review documents, even when formal parliamentary approval is not needed. He said such a practice, "usually bearing repressive character" is "widely used in the U.S. Congress." Yastrzhembsky added that Yeltsin "did not made any recommendations" to parliamentary leaders, but just said that "the possibility exists."

The military commentator for the respected political weekly "Itogi," Aleksandr Goltz, tells RFE/RL the Kremlin is mainly trying to strike a balance between cooperating with NATO and the West, and to calm Communist and nationalist fears over NATO expansion, seen as a threat to Russia's security. However, he noted, that Yeltsin had made clear to parliamentary leaders that it had been "utterly impossible" to add certain clauses during the negotiations, and is probably counting on their action to help influence NATO.

Observers say deputies in the Communist-, nationalist-dominated State Duma are expected to act in line with Yeltsin's remarks, as in the past they too have vociferously opposed NATO expansion.

Yastrzhembsky apparently reflects Moscow's view that the signing of the "Founding Act," "is not the end -- but the beginning of its life." He adds, "the signing begins the struggle over its interpretation."