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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kozyrev Riles Old Rivals Over NATO

Andrei Kozyrev has stepped back into the international fray, telling Western leaders not to pay too much attention to all the anti-NATO rhetoric their counterparts are mouthing here.

Kozyrev's argument, made in a spirited article he wrote for the American magazine Newsweek, is fairly simple. NATO, he says, is not a threat to Russia and everybody outside a bunch of unreconstructed nationalists and die-hard generals knows it. Caving in to the nationalist outcry will do the cause of democratization in Russia great harm.

Much of what Kozyrev says is incontestable. True, NATO has no plans to invade Russia, and true, Moscow just has to understand it is no longer a superpower facing the West.

But some of what Kozyrev says also seems to confirm the image of him -- painted by conservatives while he was foreign minister -- as "Mr. Yes." Kozyrev, they argued, was willing at all times and on all issues to agree with the West, despite the fact that the West is not always looking out for Russia's best interests.

He argues that Russia should be willing to accept a deal in which a treaty ensures that "no nation will move, expand or re-base troops unilaterally."

This is precisely the kind of legally binding agreement that Moscow is seeking. Kozyrev ignores that Moscow has already asked for this, but is so far being refused by NATO. The best Brussels has been willing to offer is a pledge that NATO currently has "no intention" of moving nuclear weapons into its new states.

Russia's statesmen have already accepted that NATO expansion will go ahead regardless. Now they are lobbying hard to get the kind of agreement Kozyrev is talking about. But in diplomacy, as Kozyrev certainly knows, you have to have a bargaining position to start from. Russia's is that it does not want any NATO expansion at all.

It was clear from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's comments on NTV's "Itogi" program Sunday that Kozyrev's article has caused some annoyance in high circles because he is undermining Moscow's bargaining position.

Finally, Kozyrev is out of touch with public opinion. Sure, Chernomyrdin is self-serving when he says that after 50 years of being told NATO is the enemy, Russians can only be alarmed when they see its forces moving closer to their borders. But he is also right.

The saving grace for NATO and the West is not that Russians like the alliance or accept that it is intrinsically peaceful. They are just so burdened by private troubles that NATO expansion is for now low on their list of their concerns.