Cold Blast: Moscow Rebukes NATO's Plans for Expansion

SALZBURG, Austria -- Any hopes that the re-election of Russian President Boris Yeltsin would temper long-standing Russian opposition to NATO expansion were dashed when a top Yeltsin aide issued a stinging rebuke of the military alliance's enlargement plans.

In the first official statement on the subject since Yeltsin's victory last week, presidential adviser Dmitry Ryurikov on Monday told a gathering here of Central and Eastern European leaders that the election makes NATO enlargement "an even more contentious issue than ever."

Yeltsin's victory over opponents of reform, Ryurikov said, should demonstrate to the West that democracy is entrenched in Russia and that the time has come for NATO to abandon its "stubborn reluctance" to heed Moscow's objections. The future of Russian-NATO relations, he said, hinges on such a recognition by the United States and other NATO powers.

"Russia would be ready to have contractual relations with a changing but not enlarging NATO," Ryurikov said. "One thing is important: Russia, a major European state, must be a full-fledged participant in decision-making on European security. Russia will not accept it when on issues important to it, it is only being consulted and is left aside when decisions are made."

In a direct assault on the NATO ambitions of the three Baltic countries, Ryurikov likened the treatment of Russian minorities there to apartheid and expressed shock at a military alliance that would consider such countries for membership. "Russia cannot remain indifferent to assurances that the Baltic countries will join NATO," he said.

The comments were a blast of Arctic air at a conference called to discuss economic, political and military cooperation in the countries of the former Eastern bloc. Robert Hunter, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said alliance members alone will decide upon enlargement, with no outside country holding a power of veto.