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U.S. Optimistic, Russians Leery of NATO Ties

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Jan. 3, 1997 – Russian leaders are not yet ready to accept a NATO liaison office in Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov said here recently.

The Russian people still see NATO, their former Cold War enemy, as a serious threat, he said.

Rodionov met with NATO defense ministers in a "16 plus 1" meeting following formal NATO meetings Dec. 17 and 18. NATO officials hope to establish a charter to strengthen and formalize relations between the 16-nation security alliance and Russia.

The meeting was Rodionov's second meeting with U.S. and NATO officials since he took office in August. Despite disagreements, Rodionov said, Russian officials are willing to talk.

Exchanging liaison officers is an alliance attempt to further NATO-Russia ties. Russian officers currently work at NATO headquarters coordinating Bosnia operations where Russian troops serve as part of the U.S. division.

Establishing a NATO office in Moscow is not a complex matter, Rodionov said at a NATO press conference. "There is no particular difficulty implementing this idea," he said through an interpreter. "We are ready. We are ready also to take other measures to develop and strengthen NATO-Russian cooperation and confidence between us, but in our view, we have to resolve the main issue first."

That issue, Rodionov said, is NATO expansion. NATO officials plan to invite new members to join the 16-nation security alliance at a summit in July 1997. Central and Eastern European nations, some of which were part of the Warsaw Pact and some which were even part of the former Soviet Union, may be among the new members. In Russia's view, this would put NATO too close to Russia's borders.

"NATO enlargement to the east is unacceptable to Russia," Rodionov said. Russian leaders are very much against NATO enlargement because they believe it will violate the military strategic balance in Europe, he said.

"If the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia join NATO, for example, the light forces of the alliance will increase by 15 to 20 percent," Rodionov said. "The correlation of ground forces and elements in Europe would shift very much into NATO's favor."

Russian officials also believe if new countries join NATO, other NATO-member nation's armed forces or tactical nuclear weapons could then be located in new members' territory. NATO Secretary General Javiar Solana said NATO has "no intentions, no needs and no plans to deploy nuclear arms in new members' territory. "That is a commitment we have put down in formal documents of the alliance and we will put it in today's communique," Solana said.

Russia is maintaining a hardline position against expansion. "If NATO enlarges to the east," Rodionov said, "we will ... be placed into a situation where we'll have to take certain appropriate measures." Although he declined to cite specifics, the Russian defense leader said, these measures would involve political, economic and military relations between Russia and NATO countries.

Rather than returning to a Cold War situation, Rodionov said, "It is our responsibility today to resolve this issue in the interests of Russia and NATO. That is our aim."

Can NATO expand as planned and still develop a solid, working relationship with Russia? Rodionov said he thinks "it is quite possible." But, he said, an agreement should be concluded meeting the interests of both Russia and NATO.

"It's within the authority of NATO expand or not, open the doors to new members or not, expand to the east or not," he said. "It's the sovereign right of every state to seek admission. We understand this, but nevertheless, I am quite confident, without due concern for Russia's position, Europe will be incomplete. It will not be the Europe we are dreaming of leaving as a legacy to our children and grandchildren."

Rodionov said Western officials should not forget "how much Russia has done to relieve potential military tension, to remove potential military threat, to strengthen stability and confidence in Europe." He asked for the same consideration for Russia's position as would be given any other European nation.

Rodionov himself is an example of the progress Russia has made in its transition to democracy. He recently went from being an Army general to become the first civilian defense minister for the Russian Federation.

"This was my personal dream," said Rodionov, dressed in a new charcoal gray business suit. "As soon as we had our first president in Russia, I was one of the first generals who suggested to Mr. Gorbachev, Why don't you make a civilian your minister of defense.' But it didn't come about [at that time]. I never thought it would be me. I was unexpectedly made a civilian. Within several hours, from a general, I have become a civilian."

The fact that a civilian is now Russia's minister of defense "is part of the normal, natural process of democratization," Rodionov said. "Russia is moving forward along this road. It wishes to be a full-fledged member of this European house."

Along with attending the 16 plus 1 NATO meeting, Rodionov also met separately with U.S. officials. U.S. Defense Secretary Perry said despite Rodionov's stated position on NATO expansion, he is optimistic U.S.-Russia and NATO-relations will continue to grow and strengthen.

"NATO expansion is a huge problem for Russia," Perry said, but I believe it's a problem we will work through with them and come out at the other end with a strong U.S-Russia relationship, and I think we will develop a NATO-Russia charter." None of that is going to happen quickly or easily, he noted.

Perry said the U.S.-Russia relationship has steadily improved during the last few years. "We do have soldiers serving shoulder to shoulder in IFOR," he said. "We have important disarmament programs under way, START I and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

"Under our threat reduction program in the last few years, we reduced 4,000 nuclear warheads that had been deployed. We dismantled 800 launchers. Three nations, Kazahkstan, Belarus and Ukraine, which formally were nuclear nations, are no longer nuclear. All of that has come about as a result of the cooperation between the United States and Russia, or NATO and Russia."

Perry said NATO's 16 plus 1 meetings are now routine and provide a formal, security dialogue between NATO and Russia. Those are the positive things, he said, but there is more officials would like to achieve.

"First is to get to START II [ratified by the Russian parliament]," he said. "I have expressed optimism we will achieve that next year, but we don't have that in our pocket. We need to establish liaison offices. We did not agree on that today. We will discuss that as part of the broader charter between NATO and Russia ... We have accomplished much in the last few years, we have a lot more to do.

"START II, liaison offices, a charter -- we're making progress about those. We have some reason to be optimistic we'll accomplish all three of those this year."

During Perry's meeting with Rodionov, the U.S. defense secretary said he gave the Russian minister data on the American drawdown in Europe and signed a U.S.-Russian agreement listing joint activities planned for 1997. In an exchange of gifts, Rodionov gave Perry a book on historic Russian uniforms while Perry gave Russia's general-turned-civilian statesman a U.S. military flight jacket with his nametag in Cyrillic.

"I told him when he comes to visit U.S. bases he can wear that flight jacket since now that he's a civilian, he won't be wearing uniforms anymore," Perry said. Rodionov is scheduled visit to stateside U.S. military bases early in 1997. Perry said the minister has a high regard for the American military, but Rodionov's information is all second-hand.

"The last U.S. soldier he saw in the line of duty was in 1963 in Berlin," Perry said. "The U.S. military has changed a lot in the last 33 years. I think he will be amazed and impressed when he goes off to one of our NCO schools and visits our tank operations at Fort Knox."

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