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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Declines to Join NATO Exercises

Russia has declined to take part in exercises in NATO's Partnership for Peace program to be held next month in the United States because it says it does not have the money to send its soldiers.

"If we participated in every Partnership for Peace exercise, we'd have exhausted the entire federal budget by now," a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said Thursday. "Not just the defense budget but the social budget -- everything."

NATO officials, however, were skeptical that poverty was the reason for Russia's absence from the exercises, which will involve 19 nations and include tiny countries like Romania and Albania.

"This surprises me a bit," said a NATO source in Brussels, who declined to be identified. "I would have expected them at least to send an observer."

Last year during similar exercises in the United States, Russia did not participate but sent observers from the embassy in Washington, a NATO source said.

About 1,100 troops from 16 Partnership for Peace countries, including Albania and Romania, will participate in the exercises Aug. 12 to Aug. 30 at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Troops from the United States, Canada and the Netherlands will also participate, while Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic and Denmark will send observers, a NATO source said.

The exercises, Cooperative Osprey '96, will focus on NATO marine training, peacekeeping, amphibious operations, and tactical training with the aim of increasing cooperation between NATO members and Partnership for Peace signatories.

Officers in Russia's general staff said they had not received any of the funds allocated by the federal budget this year for Partnership for Peace activities, the Russian daily Izvestia reported.

The Defense Ministry spokesman could not confirm or deny this.

The NATO source said while he did not know the reasons for Russia's absence from the North Carolina exercises, he remembered Russian soldiers during previous joint exercises off the Norwegian coast had complained of being accorded status equal to that of Poles and Lithuanians. "It also has to do with feeling that you want to retain great power status and on Partnership for Peace exercises everyone's treated equally," the source said. "I think national pride has a lot to do with it."

While the NATO source said the exercises in North Carolina would be useful in developing skills and cooperation between the countries, they were clearly less important than joint operations such as IFOR, in which Russian troops are fully participating.

Russia has opposed the inclusion of new members in NATO, for which participation in the Partnership for Peace program is seen as preparation. On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov reiterated Russia's stance in the French daily, Le Figaro. Primakov said that his country would only sanction NATO's eastward expansion i& it received guarantees that no new military structures would appear along its borders, Reuters reported.