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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Tells NATO It Will Join Partnership

Russia has told NATO that it will join the once-hostile Western alliance's Partnership for Peace plan, a move that would help calm fears that Moscow is set on a course for confrontation with the West, senior NATO officials said Wednesday.

Officials in Brussels, after being briefed by a NATO delegation that visited Moscow this week, said that the Russians had given assurances that they would join the partnership plan.

"The Russians say they will definitely join soon," Reuters quoted one source as saying.

"The decision has been taken at the highest level, although no date has been fixed," said the source, who asked not to be identified. "We are very relieved."

A senior aide at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the report from Brussels but said that Russia had only made a statement of intent to join the partnership, not a final decision.

The assurances nevertheless come as a surprise at a time of high tension between Moscow and the Western powers over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's use of air power to force a resolution of the conflict in former Yugoslavia, a strategy bitterly opposed by Russia.

Russia's Defense Ministry in particular has been at best lukewarm toward the proposal -- which offers joint military training, exercises and cooperation in defense planning -- since it was made at an alliance summit in January.

President Boris Yeltsin, in a speech to parliament last week, appeared to throw the plan into further doubt when he warned NATO against trying to expand its power into the former Warsaw Pact countries.

The NATO sources said that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vitaly Churkin gave the assurances to the U.S., British and Spanish ambassadors to NATO when they visited Moscow on Monday, Reuters reported.

The Russian Foreign Ministry official, however, said that Churkin had told the NATO ambassadors that Moscow would like to join the Partnership for Peace, but still had some reservations.

If Russia were to sign the partnership agreement, Moscow would have to commit itself to civilian, democratic control of the military and to transparency in its defense planning, NATO officials said.

A Russian agreement would come as welcome relief to NATO, which has been worried that its plans to expand cooperation with Europe's biggest military power could run aground due to the differences over policy in Bosnia.The centerpiece of that cooperation is supposed to be the partnership scheme, but Russia has been worried about the long-term intentions of the plan.

Many Eastern European states, worried about the rise of extreme nationalism in Russia, particularly following the electoral success of extremist Valdimir Zhirinovsky, and the turn away from economic reforms there, see Partnership for Peace as the first step toward full membership in NATO -- something Moscow strongly opposes.

Many countries from the area of the former Warsaw Pact have already signed up, including Romania, Slovakia, and Poland and, more worrying for Russia, ex-Soviet republics along its periphery like Ukraine, Lithuania and Estonia.

These countries have rushed to join the partnership scheme even though it does not contain offers of membership in the alliance or security guarantees. But Russia has not until now made its position clear, and a refusal by Moscow to take part would seriously undermine the value of the partnership scheme.