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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Wages PR Offensive in 9 Cities

APYekaterina Geniyeva, center, director of the Foreign Language Library, trying to calm anti-NATO protestors Thursday.
NATO officials brought a nationwide public relations campaign to sway Russian attitudes toward the alliance to Moscow on Thursday, meeting with top Russian officials and opening a photography exhibition at a ceremony that was disrupted by protesters.

The NATO effort to change perceptions comes amid a recent hardening of rhetoric between Moscow and the European Union and the United States, and Russian overtures to China.

NATO officials say they do not expect the nine-city tour to immediately change ingrained suspicions of the alliance, which opposed the Soviet Union during the Cold War and has since expanded to take in former Soviet republics and former Soviet bloc nations.

NATO and Russia have tried to emphasize joint efforts to fight terrorism and piracy and respond to natural disasters.

"It's not so much the opposition to these efforts, but a lack of knowledge of these efforts at all," said Paul Fritch, a NATO political officer.

"I think we're realistic. We're not going to change three generations of opinion in just two weeks."

The tour, which will conclude in Russia's Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad next week, has seen small protests, mainly by communist and nationalist demonstrators.

Speaking by videophone during a meeting with Russian officials in Moscow, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO was interested in bringing other former Soviet republics -- Georgia and Ukraine -- into the alliance, but Russia would be closely consulted.

"This ... would be very significant for Russia because it could radically change its relations with NATO for the worse, ruining all positive achievements," said Sergei Rogov, head of the USA and Canada Institute, a government-funded think-tank, as quoted by Interfax.

Moscow watched warily as the three ex-Soviet Baltic nations and other Eastern bloc countries joined two years ago. Later, at a ceremony inaugurating a photography exhibition highlighting the NATO-Russian partnership, three teenagers chanting, "Death to NATO!" and "NATO is worse than the Gestapo!" disrupted the event for nearly 15 minutes.

The three grabbed microphones, crushed a bouquet of roses and stomped on alliance fliers before police removed them, sparking an impromptu lecture by Yekaterina Geniyeva, director of the foreign language library hosting the exhibit.

"This quite clearly demonstrates the hatred that is born from fascism, from xenophobia and from fundamentalism," she told a crowd of several dozen students, dignitaries and journalists.

"These may be rose petals today but drops of blood tomorrow," she said, gesturing at the crushed roses.

Relations between Russia, the European Union and the United States have chilled noticeably in recent months amid EU concerns over Russian energy-export policies and warnings by top U.S. administration officials that Russia was backsliding on democracy.

Gleb Pavolvsky, a Kremlin-connected political analyst, said the NATO campaign was of marginal use, since it was reaching only a small number of people, rather than influencing broader public opinion.

He also said the relationship between Russia and NATO was increasingly directed by a more assertive European Union, as well as shifting U.S. policies toward Russia.

"NATO has a very bad image in Russia," he said.