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NATO: Russia Criticizes Plans To Create North-East Corps

Prague, 4 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Germany, Denmark and Poland are planning to establish a joint military force to guard the western approach to the Baltic Sea. These plans have been criticized by Russia.

The force is to be called the Multi-national Corps North-East. It is to consist of three divisions, each from a separate country, comprising some 25,000 troops under a rotating command. It is to be headquartered in the Polish northern city of Szczecin.

Fully integrated with NATO, the corps will be the Alliance's first permanent military mission in Central Europe, since NATO's decision last year to invite Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into its ranks.

Speaking today to RFE/RL, a former high-ranking Polish defense official Andrzej Karkoszka, who, as a deputy minister of defense in the previous government had been responsible for military and strategic planning, said that the plans to establish the corps reflect the prevailing emphasis in NATO on creating multi-national ties among separate members of the Alliance.

These trends have already been noticeable with the establishment in 1993 of the Eurocorps, which, while separate from the Alliance, joined together German and French quick reaction military units. Similarly, there is a German-Dutch division based in the western part of Germany, and a German-Danish joint NATO unit also stationed in Germany.

Now, this pattern of military trans-national cooperation is to be applied to Eastern newcomers to NATO. Karkoszka said that the experiment is currently limited to Poland, but there is still a "theoretical" possibility that Czech military units could eventually be brought into the corps.

The plans to establish the North-East NATO corps have met with criticism from Russia. Visiting last month in Germany, Russian Minister of Defense Igor Sergeyev was reported to have complained that the move amounted to NATO "advancing toward the Russian border with weapons in its hands." Sergeyev said that there was no need to create such multi-national military units in Central Europe.

Sergeyev was also said to have dismissed arguments presented by German officials that the corps will have purely defensive character, that it will not be equipped with nuclear weapons, that its operations will be relatively limited, and that its establishment will serve to promote regional stability through international integration and cooperation.

This view has reflected the long-maintained Russian policy toward NATO. While ready to develop bilateral cooperative links with the Alliance, Moscow has been consistently critical of NATO's decision to expand in the East.

This approach has not changed, although it is almost certain that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic will enter the Alliance next year. The accord of their accession has this week been formally ratified by Canada and Denmark.

In this situation, Russia's tactics tend to focus increasingly on criticism of specific integrative efforts by the established NATO states toward the prospective Eastern members, particularly with regard to the extension of military multi-national groups and joint command centers to the Central European states. This appears to reflect a hope that persistent criticism of any such efforts may eventually affect their implementation, and, in this way, the NATO enlargement in the East would be relatively reduced to mere political, rather than, full military integration.

There is no indication, however, that Russia's criticism would affect the decision to set up the North-East corps. Rather, each of the three prospective partners appears to see in the move a major step toward enhancing regional stability.