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Russia: NATO Officials Optimistic About Relations

Brussels, 24 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - NATO officials say they feel more optimistic about prospects of meaningful cooperation with Russia, as a result of two meetings this week at NATO headquarters.

First was the visit yesterday of the Chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, Colonel-General Anatoly Kvashnin. General Klaus Nauman, the Chairman of NATO's Military Committee, the Alliance's highest military authority, today described Kvashnin's visit as "a great success."

In general, our correspondent reports, NATO officers found General Kvashnin to be open-minded and dynamic "a man of the new generation" said one of the top officers.

General Kvashnin also briefed Alliance representatives on the status of reforms in the Russian Armed Forces, including plans for reorganizing military districts. Officials in Brussels said afterward that this could bring with it a redeployment of Russian forces in a way that could become a significant measure for confidence-building. NATO officials suggested a redeployment could involve a reduction in the traditionally heavy concentration of Russian forces facing Western Europe.

General Kvashnin's visit also provided the occasion for NATO leaders to meet the newly appointed Russian permanent military representative, Lieutinent-General Viktor Zavarzin, who is to take up his post next month, with a support group of up to eleven other Russian officers. NATO officials say they believe this opens the way for a first meeting of the military version of the joint NATO-Russia committee, also next month, perhaps about November 20.

This meeting, in turn, would make plans for the ministerial meeting of defense ministers in early December, along side the NATO Defense Ministers Council, December 2-3.

NATO officials also say it is now clear that Russia is ready to go ahead with work on its individual "Partnership for Peace" program participation, with experts holding a meeting next week.

Other early moves are expected to include the stationing of a permanent Russian representatives at major military command posts in the U.S. In return, NATO would seek to post liason officers in Moscow.

The second big meeting of the week at NATO headquarters was today.

The permanent joint council of ambassadors with Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, concentrated on two topics: Bosnia, and the working plan for NATO-Russia cooperation.

A first expert group on civil defense and disaster management has already met, with others expected soon to focus on science and the environment, and on nuclear-related matters.

A political-military group is to be set up soon on peacekeeping, and could be followed by another one dealing with arms procurement issues.