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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO: Red Win May Fuel Expansion

BRUSSELS -- NATO, confident relations with Russia are warming after months of sniping, could bring forward enlargement plans in the event of the "nightmare prospect" of a communist victory in the June 16 poll, alliance sources say.

NATO officials say a surprise victory by Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov would send shock waves from the Baltic states to Washington, but not shake the alliance's determination to take in former communist states from central and eastern Europe.

"After all, NATO enlargement is a political issue. A Communist in power could so scare people, they would bring them in overnight," one NATO diplomatic source said.

NATO capitals, however, are making no secret of their hopes that President Boris Yeltsin will fend off the challenge and move ahead with attempts to build a new Russia-NATO relationship embracing the whole spectrum of political and military ties.

They say they are encouraged that enlargement has so far failed to emerge as an issue in the current campaign and point to a far more moderate tone adopted by Russian leaders in recent contacts with the alliance.

"So far enlargement seems to be more of an issue in the U.S. [presidential] campaign than the Russian one," quipped a senior NATO official in reference to remarks by President Bill Clinton's challenger Senator Bob Dole.

Dole, a Republican, seeking votes from a right-wing constituency still deeply suspicious of Moscow, said he planned to "jump-start" the stalled enlargement process by introducing new legislation to speed it up.

The White House responded by saying Clinton would continue to follow a "go slow" approach. A Zyuganov victory would change that and wreck an emerging compromise on the shape of Europe's future security map, alliance diplomats say.

At a meeting with NATO foreign ministers in Berlin last week, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov avoided the usual tirades against enlargement and indicated a willingness to move ahead with stalled plans for a broader dialogue.

Some NATO capitals said the change was more than just one of mood and suggested a deal was in the offing which could see Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in the alliance before the end of the century.

Concern has since focused on how to reassure the countries left out, particularly the jittery Baltic states -- Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia -- which have watched developments in Moscow with mounting unease. NATO planners say the alliance would be forced to answer those concerns with or without Russian acceptance, possibly creating a new stand-off in Europe.