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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grachev: NATO Growth a Threat

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said Wednesday that NATO expansion was the biggest threat to the Commonwealth of Independent States' security and the group should coordinate policy to oppose it.

Opening a CIS defense ministers' summit in Moscow, Grachev said the CIS was entering a new era of integration and hailed plans by four of its 12 member states to sign agreements Friday providing for closer contacts.

But he said some members of the CIS, created on the ashes of the Soviet Union in 1991, still faced internal conflicts and were threatened by NATO's plans to take in countries of eastern and central Europe.

"NATO expansion ... is the biggest negative factor for the security of the countries in the Commonwealth," Interfax quoted Grachev as saying.

Despite hearing Russia's opposition on a visit to Moscow last week, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said in a radio interview in Paris on Wednesday that the military alliance's plans to expand eastwards were irreversible.

Solana plans to visit the former Soviet republic of Estonia on April 16 to 17 to discuss the Baltic nation's aspirations to join the alliance.

Interfax and Itar-Tass news agencies said Grachev called for the CIS states to "coordinate positions" on NATO's plans to enlarge, but gave no details of any proposals for a joint policy.

There was also no response from the governments of the CIS countries, at least one of which, Ukraine, has expressed interest in closer cooperation with NATO.

Russia says NATO enlargement would threaten its security, possibly taking the Western alliance right up to its border. President Boris Yeltsin appeared Monday to offer hope of a compromise, saying any new countries should be in NATO's political structure but outside its military organization.

Grachev's only concession appeared to be a statement that Russia would be ready for close cooperation with NATO if it did not enlarge.

Solana said the debate over NATO expansion was being driven by emotional arguments, due in part to the campaign for Russia's presidential election in June, but that the alliance could take steps to make its expansion easier for Moscow to accept.

"We must enlarge NATO. This is a decision that was taken in 1994, and we must do it, and we will do it with respect for Russia," Solana told the radio.

The CIS defense ministers were meeting mainly to discuss creation of a mutual air defense system.

Russia offered to pay for more than 50 percent of the costs of creating such a system. Documents on creating it were to be sent to each member state to discuss financing.

The summit coincided with new efforts towards reintegration in the CIS. Russia is to sign a treaty with Belarus on April 2 on creating a union with its neighbor, but not a new state.

Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan will sign documents in Moscow on Friday providing for closer contacts, including expanding a customs union. "Today we are on the threshold of new integration processes," Grachev said.

Many former Soviet republics, facing economic hardship as independent states, want to increase cooperation and trade. But it is not clear how far such moves will go because some of the states fear renewed domination by Moscow.

Interfax said CIS peacekeeping efforts in Georgia's rebel Abkhazia province were also being discussed Wednesday. The agency mentioned no plans to discuss Russia's efforts to smash an independence drive in Chechnya.