Putin Says Moscow Not in NATO Bid

APRobertson and Putin at their meeting Friday. Putin praised the tempo of discussions.
President Vladimir Putin praised NATO Secretary-General George Robertson for the "dynamic" tempo of discussions aimed at drastically changing the relationship between Russia and the Western alliance, but he said Moscow was not seeking to join NATO or win the right to veto its activities.

"I am sure that your visit will be a positive development for security in Europe and throughout the world," Putin told Robertson during Kremlin talks Friday. "The dialogue between NATO and Russia is developing dynamically."

Putin added: "On the one hand, Russia is not standing in line to join NATO, but on the other hand, it is ready to develop relations as far as the alliance is prepared."

Robertson said at a news conference that NATO and Russia would consider with "some urgency" a proposal by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to set up a new Russia-North Atlantic Council.

Under the proposal, NATO's North Atlantic Council, the main policy-making body, would merge with a Russian security and political team to form the Russia-North Atlantic Council.

The council, which would meet once every two weeks in Brussels, would allow Russia the same status as NATO's 19 member states in voting on some security issues.

The North Atlantic Council would continue to meet once a week as an alliance-only forum, but the Russia-North Atlantic Council would take on an increasingly influential role when it comes to decisions on key issues such as counterterrorism, peacekeeping operations and other security matters.

There are many ways that both NATO and Russia could win should this new framework take shape, analysts said.

NATO members, especially the United States, will be able to receive more help from Russia in the fight against their new common enemy -- terrorism.

"We have a common threat," Robertson said, drawing parallels between Russia and the West's battle against Nazi Germany six decades ago and the battle today against international terrorism.

Through closer ties, NATO members, namely the United States, hope to continue to receive from Russia the support that Moscow is now offering, such as access to intelligence and a green light to use air bases in Central Asia.

And the closer Russia gets to the West, the less incentive it will have to do business with Iraq and Iran, analysts said.

Among other things, a closer relationship may help open up more markets for the sale of weapons from Russia's struggling industrial-arms complex, said Sergei Markov, a political adviser with close ties to the Kremlin.

If it gets help selling arms to other countries, "Russia will stop protecting Iraq," he said.

But agreement in some arenas in the Blair proposal, such as peacekeeping, could prove difficult.

Just last week, for example, as France, Germany and Britain were sending or preparing to send troops into Afghanistan, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov voiced concern about the presence of peacekeeping troops there.

"The question of sending peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan has to be approached with extreme caution," Ivanov said. "This is not Kosovo."

Russia and NATO currently communicate through the Permanent Joint Council, which was created in 1997 to give Russia a voice in the alliance but not a vote.

This arrangement has suited NATO members who feared that, should Russia have veto power, it would cripple the alliance's decision-making capabilities. NATO and Russia are often at odds over issues like NATO enlargement and the presence of peacekeeping forces in Kosovo.

In his remarks in Moscow, Robertson signaled that those fears have not disappeared and that for Russia to gain more authority in NATO it would have to agree to be cooperative.

"A new attitude is going to be required on both sides if this is going to work," he said Thursday.

On Friday, he said he had won assurances from Putin that Russia did not want to throw a wrench into NATO's activities.

Robertson's visit, which began with a tribute in Volgograd to the huge Soviet losses there in World War II and included a stop at a Moscow elementary school Friday, capped a series of recent steps to thaw long-frosty feelings between NATO and Russia.

The flurry of activity started earlier this month when U.S. President George W. Bush and Putin released a joint statement during their U.S. summit saying that the United States and Russia will work together with NATO and other NATO members to develop new, effective mechanisms for consultation, cooperation, joint decision making and joint action between NATO and Russia.

Then on Nov. 9, just as the summit ended, Blair sent the four-page proposal to Putin, Bush, Robertson and the heads of government of NATO members calling for the new joint policy-making body. The proposal was sent with Bush's blessing. The next day, Putin called Blair to discuss his plan.

The Robertson visit was announced as Putin headed off for Washington for his summit with Bush.