President Appoints Rogozin to NATO

President Vladimir Putin on Thursday appointed firebrand nationalist Dmitry Rogozin as the country's representative to NATO.

Rogozin will take up his post by the end of the month, his spokeswoman Lidia Mikhailova said by telephone.

Putin signed a decree appointing Rogozin and another relieving Moscow's current representative, Konstantin Totsky, the Kremlin said on its web site.

Mikhailova said Putin would meet with Rogozin on Saturday or Monday and that a news conference would be held afterward.

Rogozin, who has accused the Western military alliance of carrying out the "aggressive interests of the United States," issued a statement Thursday calling on Russians to work with the government to return the country to superpower status: "In this critical moment ... patriots cannot remain idle," he said, Interfax reported.

NATO nevertheless promised Rogozin a friendly welcome.

"The secretary general and the allies are looking forward to working with Mr. Rogozin in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council," spokesman Robert Pszel said by telephone.

News of the decision to appoint Rogozin broke in October, and both houses of the parliament confirmed him in November. Putin's decision had been expected in December, and the delay had caused some speculation.

A NATO official said the alliance approved Rogozin's appointment only this week. Rogozin's spokeswoman blamed the delay on bureaucratic hurdles.

Gazeta reported last month that complications had arisen because Rogozin was on a Latvian blacklist of personae non gratae, which was extended to the Schengen countries with Latvia's accession to the visa-free zone in December. Latvia has refused to comment.

Rogozin's appointment has been called a signal to NATO that Moscow is not interested in improving its strained ties with the West and an attempt to co-opt a potentially independent politician with a prestigious post.

Rogozin, 44, told Ekho Mosvky radio last month that NATO and Russia had much to cooperate on and promised to defend Russian interests. "For some reason it is assumed that our relations consist of barking at each other -- one side says, 'Woof, woof,' and the other side replies, 'Woof, woof,'" he said. "In fact, there is a huge number of issues in which we have no conflicts at all."