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Russia to Join NATO's Partnership for Peace Program : Europe: The move is announced as the Moscow and Washington defense chiefs meet.


MOSCOW — Russia said Thursday that it will join NATO's Partnership for Peace by the month's end and was assured by Defense Secretary William J. Perry of a major role in the post-Cold War military cooperation program.

Gen. Pavel S. Grachev, Russia's defense minister, made the announcement after meeting with his American counterpart. Grachev said Russia will sign up as soon as it prepares a detailed proposal for how it wants to collaborate with the 16-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"Since we are a great power, we have a large amount of tasks to work out," Grachev told reporters.

U.S. officials welcomed the decision as a sign that Russia, despite friction with NATO over the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the recent exposure of an alleged Russian mole inside the CIA, remains committed to working with the West.

"Secretary Perry repeated (in the meeting) that Partnership for Peace is something different countries will participate in to different extents depending upon their resources, their fundamental importance," a senior U.S. defense official told Reuters news agency.

Perry told Grachev that "he expected, in view of the size and importance of Russia, that they would have a large and important role in the Partnership for Peace," the official was quoted as saying.

Partnership for Peace emerged last year as a U.S. formula to enable countries of the former Soviet Bloc to engage in joint exercises, training and defense planning with NATO without gaining full membership. Twelve nations have joined so far.

The formula is a compromise. Former Soviet satellites--particularly the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland--seek NATO membership as a shield against future Russian aggression.

Russia objects to an eastward expansion by NATO, which it views as a Cold War alliance that should be weakened.

Russian officials made it clear Thursday that they are joining Partnership for Peace not so much as a step toward embracing NATO as one toward redefining Europe's security arrangements under a broader umbrella with a new identity.

"Our accession to this program will enable us to sway its future evolution according to Russia's national interests," Yuri K. Nazarkin, chief of Russia's security council, told a hearing of the Duma, the lower house of Parliament.

One of Grachev's deputies, Gen. Pavel Zolotarev, said Russia hopes by joining the partnership to obtain "official recognition" from NATO nations of Moscow's "special responsibility" to police neighboring countries of the former Soviet Union.

So far, no Western leader has been willing to give Moscow such carte blanche.

Zolotarev said Russia also hopes to develop a new "pan-European security system" that would effectively supplant NATO.

Meanwhile, he said Russia wants to work with NATO to train combat troops for peacekeeping operations, keep terrorists from stealing nuclear or chemical weapons and divide up conventional arms markets in the rest of the world.

Government officials testified at the hearing that Russia risks isolation and even the loss of its arms market in Eastern Europe if it delays joining the partnership.

"We would be playing a role of outside observer of the political processes in Europe," Gen. Zolotarev said. "Our opinion would be given less and less heed."

Several lawmakers objected to Partnership for Peace because NATO will set the terms of cooperation by each new partner.

"It can only be described as dictating conditions to others," said Vladimir P. Lukin, chairman of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Commission and a former ambassador to the United States. "It reminds me of a compromise of a rapist" who offers his victim a choice between cooperation and violence.

The Duma, led by an alliance of Communists and nationalists, has no power to block Russia's entry into the partnership or its growing cooperation with NATO.

The Russian navy announced Thursday that it will take part for the first time in large-scale naval maneuvers with other European nations starting next Monday in the Sea of Norway.

After their meeting, Perry said he and Grachev agreed to "work together as equal partners" for peace in Bosnia, despite Russia's objections to NATO threats of force against the Bosnian Serbs.

The talks with Grachev launched a weeklong visit by Perry to Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus--the inheritors of the Soviet nuclear arsenal--with an agenda of arms control and defense conversion. Having spoken with Grachev on a hot line linking Washington and Moscow, he said he wanted to forge closer ties between the two defense establishments.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that many important national security relationships in the entire world will be influenced by this relationship," Perry said. "All of the important substantive problems with which we have to work will go much better if we have a close personal understanding."

After the defense chiefs of the former superpower rivals had shaken hands, about 5,000 Russians still pining over the breakup of the Soviet Union held an outdoor rally in central Moscow to mark the third anniversary of the last referendum held in that country.

In it, 74% of the voters endorsed the idea of keeping the union together; within nine months it was dead.

People at the rally, mostly middle-aged and retired, had mixed views about the partnership.

"It is like a surrender!" exclaimed Anna S. Plyukhina, 64. "First it is this thing, then it will come to German generals coming to Russia, once again ordering us around."

Noting the poor financial state of Russia's army, a demonstrator named Vladimir D. Fedotov, 61, said: "If (the government) doesn't want to give enough money to the army, then it is quite reasonable to join this partnership. Maybe there our army will get some badly needed dollars."

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