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Mistrust of NATO Unites Wary Russia

Nation still sees West with 'enemy mentality'

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THE message from the West rings brutally clear in the ears of Russians: You remain the enemy, and we will isolate you militarily.

One after another, senior Western officials have brought a strong message to Moscow that, like it or not, NATO will expand to take in former members of the Soviet bloc.

To US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in Moscow from Thursday through Saturday, the expansion of the Atlantic alliance is a way to consolidate democracy and security in Central and Eastern Europe - to help "erase the cold war dividing line drawn solely by the accident of where the Red Army stopped in 1945."

No one is more eager for this consolidation than the once-communist nations of East Europe.

But to Russians across the political spectrum, Russia's peaceful retreat from the cold war is being answered with the threatening expansion of an alliance that Russia believes it alone among European nations will never be eligible to join.

"We cannot understand the whole situation when for several decades the argument for NATO was the existence of the Warsaw Pact and the great army of the Soviet Union," says Alexei Podberiozkin, a Russian nationalist closely allied with the Communists, who is also a deputy chairman of the Duma International Affairs Committee. Now the Warsaw Pact is disbanded, the Soviet Union disintegrated, and the Russian Army withdrawn from Eastern Europe - yet NATO is expanding.

The issue is not yet setting the tone of US-Russian relations. When Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Christopher met Friday, neither brought up NATO expansion, choosing to stress areas of cooperation instead. But Mr. Christopher had already told Russia from Prague last Wednesday that the decision to broaden NATO is not negotiable. And Yeltsin told NATO Secretary General Javier Solana in Moscow Thursday how strongly Russia opposed the move.

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