Russia, NATO Formalize New Ties

NOORDWIJK, Netherlands -- Russia and NATO formalized a new relationship Wednesday of broad military and political cooperation, yet Moscow used the occasion to restate its misgivings about the Western alliance's plans to expand eastward.

At a one-hour meeting with his 16 NATO counterparts at this North Sea resort, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev ended months of delay by endorsing his country's membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program.

He also endorsed a document -- unique to Russia and not the other 25 nations that have signed a partnership accord -- setting out an "enhanced dialogue'' and cooperation with the Western alliance on topics ranging from peacekeeping to nuclear nonproliferation.

There was no signing of documents, just a mutual acknowledgement to take relations between the onetime arch rivals to a new, more formal plane. The most visible expression of that will be regular consultations between NATO and Russian foreign ministers.

Kozyrev was to have formalized Russia's new relationship with the alliance during a visit to NATO headquarters last December.

Instead, he stunned the NATO foreign ministers by backing out, accusing them of engineering a new divide in Europe with their ambitious plans for an eastward expansion of NATO.

Mindful of that setback, alliance officials declined to allow live press coverage of the ceremony. Diplomats said this was done just in case there was a sudden last-minute change in the Russian stance again.

NATO's special relationship with Russia reflects the fact that the country is a nuclear power entitled to be consulted on major issues.

But Russia gets no veto right over NATO decisions. This is important in view of the group's plans to take in East European neighbors in the years ahead.

Russia opposes such an expansion. He told the NATO ministers they should stop their enlargement drive.

"Instead of considering ways of NATO expansion, we need to focus on methods of building, jointly, a single Europe,'' he told the meeting.

"In other words, we suggest [NATO should] halt and think, rather than act hastily and blindly.''

NATO Secretary General Willy Claes said in his address the alliance's expansion plan is not "directed against Russia, nor does it diminish the national security interests of Russia.''

He said NATO and Russia "have it in their power to become valued friends, leaving behind for good the remnants of past mistrust and suspicion.''

But Kozyrev warned hasty moves toward enlargement "may threaten the establishment of truly mutually advantageous and constructive relations between Russia and NATO and the usefulness of Russia's involvement in PFP.''

He added, "We continue to believe that it does not meet either the interests of Russia's national security, or the interests of European security as a whole.''

Also, Kozyrev urged the transformation of NATO from a military organization into a political one.

If not, he said, "we have to clarify whom NATO is going to defend itself against. If one has in mind Russia, it is obvious that this would mean creating new dividing lines in Europe.''

In a joint statement, Russia and the NATO allies said "constructive cooperative relations of mutual respect, benefit and friendship between the alliance and Russia are ... a key element for security and stability in Europe.''

East European nations welcomed the Russian decision to work more closely with NATO. They believed Russia's involvement in the partnership plan would help ease fears about the enlargement.

"This marks an important new step in their integration,'' said Romania's Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu. "The participation of Russia will show them the enlargement of NATO is a beneficial process.''

Poland's Wladyslaw Bartoszewski also welcomed the Russian decision.

"Everything that binds Russia into the international security system is a very positive development for us,'' he said.

The East Europeans were in Noordwijk to attend a meeting with NATO later Wednesday.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher led NATO officials in hailing Russia's decision to participate in the partnership program as the beginning of a new era.