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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yavlinsky Blasts NATO As Expansion Discussed

WASHINGTON -- As a senior U.S. State Departmant official completes a swing through Western Europe to discuss NATO expansion and relations with Russia, the alliance's plans continue to unite Moscow in opposition.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, a central Clinton administration policy-maker on Russia and NATO, was to visit London, Brussels, Paris and Bonn before returning home Wednesday night.

"This is a trip that focuses on U.S.-European relations and on some of the security issues that have been at the forefront of our relationship," said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.

Talbott "will be in the four capitals to discuss with our allies, including with NATO officials ... a broad variety of issues related to the Madrid summit," Burns added.

Leaders of 16 NATO countries are to meet in Madrid on July 8 and 9 to formally invite some ex-communist countries in eastern Europe to join the Western alliance. Hungary, Poland and the Czech republic are considered the front-runners, but Romania and Slovenia are also being discussed for early admittance.

In addition, alliance officials are trying to negotiate a special charter with Moscow that would ensure Russia does not feel excluded from the new European security structures.

That has caused little comfort in Moscow, where politicians across the spectrum are raising red flags about NATO's eastward expansion plans.

A liberal opposition leader, Grigory Yavlinsky, said Monday that while he does not view NATO as a military threat, he fears its expansion could hurt the moves for reform in Russia.

"It would create tendencies in Russian internal politics that I consider bad for Russian democracy," said Yavlinsky, who leads the reformist Yabloko faction in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.

He told a conference in Prague that NATO expansion could boost the military-industrial complex in Russia and make anti-Western sentiment easier to exploit.

Communists and nationalists in Russia have sought to play up what they call a NATO military threat. President Boris Yeltsin also is edging closer to the idea of eventual union with the former Soviet republic of Belarus as part of a policy to counter NATO growth.

Yavlinsky said NATO expansion could divert European attention from new and more real threats to European security such as terrorism and the control of the former Soviet Union's stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. But Yavlinsky reserved some of his most scathing comments for NATO as an institution, which he said was essentially redundant and needed expansion to justify its existence.

"Big bureaucratic structures are always looking for something to do if they have nothing to do. So the best thing for bureaucratic structures is expansion," he said.

He also questioned the motives of Western powers in offering NATO membership to former east bloc countries, saying European Union countries were afraid of low cost competition from post-communist countries.

"I think that to some extent NATO expansion is a replacement for the issue of taking Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary into the economic union of Europe."

Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are expected to start negotiations on NATO membership after the summer.