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Russia Angry Over NATO’s ‘Bigger Is Better’ Ideas

September 18, 1995

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ NATO air strikes on Bosnian Serbs may rile the Russians, but the idea of enlarging the Western military alliance to include Moscow’s former partners in eastern Europe really has them steaming.

For many in the 16-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization, expansion into the vacuum left by the crumbling of the Soviet Union is only natural.

For some of the countries freed from the heavy hand of the former Warsaw Pact, it is a chance for security against future Russian dominance.

For Moscow, it is clearly an effort to isolate Russia.

Dr. Alexander Konovalov, director of Moscow’s Center for Military Policy and Systems Analysis, said expansion proposals show NATO ``does not believe in the possibility of democratic transformation in Russia.″

The West is taking advantage of Russia’s current weakness ``to gain the most favorable strategic position for further confrontation,″ he said.

NATO steadfastly refuses to identify potential joiners, but the countries most often mentioned as first in line for full membership are Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Others see the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as natural members.

Other nations, like Romania, wonder why they are not in the front row.

Ask Col. Marian Kowalewski of the Polish Defense Ministry why Poland so desperately wants in and he responds with wide-eyed astonishment, then offers a lesson in modern European history and past Russian invasions.

Clyde Kull, Estonia’s ambassador to NATO and the European Union, says expanding NATO is clearly a part of the process of protecting democracy in these newly emerging free countries.

Why the West, and the United States in particular, is so eager to open up the 45-year-old club to new membership is less clear.

NATO decided at the end of last year that it would expand into eastern Europe, but it was only after it made the decision that it ordered a study of why the alliance should be enlarged and how it should go about it. This strikes the Russians as more than a little suspect.

``This policy was decided before somebody calculated the consequences,″ Konovalov said during a conference on the future of NATO earlier this month in the Belgian coastal resort of Knokke-Heist. ``You are analyzing only now but the decision is already made.″

Among the consequences, he said, are further deterioration of Russia’s relations with NATO, new strains on arms control treaties and possible insistence by the Russian military that redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons is the only available, cheap ``equalizer″ to a stronger NATO.

Moscow is trying to maintain a vestige of its former superpower status while struggling with enormous internal economic and political difficulties. Increasing its isolation can only hurt the democratization process, Russian leaders say.

On Bosnia’s war, for instance, Russia is a member of the international ``contact group″ pursuing a peace settlement. But Moscow has been pushed to the sidelines, outnumbered by the other members _ the United States, Britain, France and Germany _ and effectively out of the decision-making loop.

``Russia and the westerners are talking past each other once again,″ said Dr. Sergei Rogov, director of Moscow’s Institute for USA and Canada Studies. ``Russia is at best informed before an attack happens, or presented with a fait accompli. It is being consulted, talked to, but the decisions are being made by others.″

The Bosnian war and the plan to enlarge the alliance have moved the Russia-NATO relationship steadily backward over the past year, acknowledges Gebhardt von Moltke, a German who is NATO’s assistant secretary-general for political affairs.

But, he added: ``We are reaching out toward the Russians. Russia is going to isolate itself if it says it only will negotiate if NATO forgoes enlargement.″

It is not NATO that is the driving force behind expansion, but the many eastern European countries clamoring to get in, Von Moltke said.

Not all of those countries are clamoring.

``Expansion is going too fast and small countries like Belarus are not being consulted at all,″ said Dr. Ural Latypov, foreign affairs adviser to the president of that former Soviet republic. ``It must be very carefully planned and carried out slowly.″

Equally anxious about taking it slowly is the former Soviet state of Ukraine, strongly nationalist but sensitive to the concerns of its giant neighbor and former master.

``My country has lost its statehood several times in the past,″ said Maj. Gen. Ihor Smeshko, defense attache at the Ukraine Embassy in Washington. ``If there is a fast expansion of NATO, we can predict the reaction of Russia.″

He said Ukraine’s main goal is joining the free-market system.

``At the same time, destroying the (military) balance would not be very wise,″ Smeshko said. ``We would like an understanding of our unique position between two powers.″

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