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New Russian Defense Chief Meets Western Counterparts

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BERGEN, Norway, Oct. 3, 1996 – In Russia, "NATO" is still a dreaded word.

The threat of Russia's Cold War enemy lingers in people's minds, according to Russian Defense Minister army Gen. Igor Rodionov. NATO was the product of the Cold War, he recently told U.S. and NATO defense ministers here in a special meeting Sept. 26. People have not forgotten the powerful confrontation of two powerful military systems, he said.

"Our people are tired of military confrontation, as are all people of Europe," Rodionov said. "It is very difficult to convince our people NATO is a peaceful organization with good purposes only." The meeting was his first with U.S. and Western European defense leaders. It was also the first time a Russian defense minister attended an informal NATO meeting, NATO officials said. Rodionov replaced army Gen. Pavel Grachev about two months ago, after Russia's presidential elections.

Russia advocates an overall security system for Europe that takes into account the views of each country, he said. It opposes NATO's expansion to the east, he said, but is willing to work with the alliance in other areas.

Rodionov said there is no strategic necessity for NATO to advance eastward. Russian officials are not ready to see nations that were formerly part of the Warsaw Pact or the former Soviet Union join the 16nation Western security alliance, he said.

Russian military officials want to continue working with NATO as they have in Bosnia, Rodionov said. If NATO determines a followon force is needed to replace the implementation force, Russia will send troops, he said.

Russian officials want to consult closely with the alliance as it decides on further military commitments, he said. NATO officials said they plan to include Russia and other nonNATO IFOR participants during planning.

While in Norway, Rodionov, Norwegian Defense Minister Jorgen Kosmo and U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry signed a cooperative declaration to share knowledge and technology to clean, protect and preserve the Arctic environment.

Rodionov also met with Perry to discuss continuing U.S.Russia military relations. Perry told Rodionov NATO is a force for stability in Europe, which will also benefit Russia. Perry said there is a new NATO, just as there is a new Russia.

"Nearly all of the Russians I've spoken with express some concern, even some fear, of NATO enlargement," Perry said. "As I've discussed this with them, it becomes more and more clear it's not just the threat of NATO enlargement, it is that they see NATO as a threat. NATO is not a threat to Russia, any more than Russia is a threat to NATO."

"This is leftover thinking from the Cold War when for decades the word 'NATO' [to Russia] meant 'military threat,'" Perry said. This lingering perception is hard to get over, he said.

"We have to work every day with Russia in a constructive way on joint efforts and joint projects that demonstrate to them that NATO is designed to enhance the security and stability of all of Europe," Perry said. "NATO is a benefit to Russia, not a threat."

Correcting Russia's lingering perceptions are important, Perry said. "We have to work together with them. They have to see it with their own eyes."

More Partnership for Peace exercises will help in this effort, Perry said. "I've gone to these exercises, and it's heartwarming to see how the Russian soldiers and officers who attend mingle with the NATO soldiers and understand at a very personal level that these are friends, not enemies."

Russia's participation in IFOR is also furthering the cause, Perry said. Russian troops serve side by side with U.S. and Nordic troops in the same division. A Russian threestar general and a team of senior Russian officers are at NATO headquarters to plan and execute IFOR operations. "I have met and talked with these senior officers," Perry said. "They don't think NATO is the enemy. The Russian brigade commander in Bosnia doesn't think NATO is a threat. That is how we're going to overcome this problem, day by day, exercise by exercise. Not by speeches."

U.S. plans for broader cooperation with Russia include conducting more training exercises and moving forward on the cooperative threat reduction program.

Rodionov said his current focus is on reducing and reforming and Russia's military. He said he believes it possible to maintain deterrence with substantially fewer nuclear weapons and looks forward to discussing further reductions in nuclear forces.

He also said he intends to reduce the Russian armed forces. This will improve its quality in personnel, readiness, equipment and control. He said he wants to create a modern, effective fighting force able to defend Russia and its allies.

Perry and Rodionov will meet next in Moscow in October and in Washington in December, a senior DoD official said.

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