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Russia Sees U.S., NATO Actions as Reason to Watch Its Back

New nuclear arms and alliance expansion may lead to tougher policy by Moscow, official says.

March 26, 2004|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Russian Defense Minister Sergei B. Ivanov warned Thursday that American development of new types of nuclear weapons, armed actions that bypass the U.N. Security Council and anti-Russian attitudes inside NATO could force his nation to adopt tougher defense measures.

With the North Atlantic Treaty Organization due to expand into seven former communist states next week, including three Baltic countries that were part of the Soviet Union, Ivanov stressed Moscow's desire to see the Western alliance leave behind its Cold War roots.

"Russia keeps a close watch on NATO's ongoing transformation and hopes for complete removal of direct and indirect anti-Russian elements from the military plans and political declarations of its member states," he said in an article published Thursday in Russia in Global Affairs magazine.

"However, if NATO remains a military alliance with an offensive military doctrine, Russia will have to adequately revise its military planning and principles regarding the development of its armed forces, including its nuclear forces."

In a comment targeting the Bush administration's talk of developing a new generation of low-yield battlefield nuclear arms, Ivanov declared that "it is necessary to take special account of the possible reemergence of nuclear weapons as a real military instrument. This is an extremely dangerous tendency that is undermining global and regional stability."

Analysts said the article in the Russian-language magazine, whose content is monitored by foreign specialists, reflected thinking expressed in this nation's revised military doctrine for the 21st century that was drawn up last fall.

Although its publication now may have been timed to mark Moscow's unhappiness with NATO's pending expansion to 26 members from the current 19, the article was a wide-ranging review of defense issues and did not carry a generally hostile tone.

"When Ivanov talks about the reemergence of nuclear weapons as a real military instrument, he first and foremost means that our American partners have begun to particularize their nuclear doctrine toward lowering the threshold for the actual use of nuclear weapons," said Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, an independent Moscow think tank.

A ceremony to mark the accession to the alliance of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia is scheduled for April 2 in Brussels, though the nations will officially become members Monday. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, other states once in Moscow's sphere, joined NATO in a 1999 expansion.

Latvian Defense Minister Atis Slakteris told reporters Thursday that at least four Belgian air force planes would patrol Latvian airspace starting Monday, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

Ivanov told reporters Wednesday that small-scale NATO patrols of Baltic airspace would not threaten Russia's security or violate any international agreements, but that Moscow would watch the alliance's actions near its borders and take measures in response if necessary, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

Ivanov's low-key expression of concerns fit into an approach initiated by President Vladimir V. Putin several years ago, said Ivan Safranchuk, director of the Russian branch of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information.

"Russia considers NATO expansion a mistake, but it is NATO's own business," he said. "In fact, this is the universal formula that was also applied to the [antiballistic missile] agreement, to the situation in Iraq, etc.

"It is clear that nothing practical really follows from such a stance -- NATO can do whatever it thinks fit," he said, "while Russia will attempt to minimize the negative consequences for itself."

Ivanov also described the United Nations and its Security Council, on which Russia holds a permanent seat with veto power, as "major factors for ensuring global stability" and complained about military actions taken without U.N. approval.

"Reducing their role -- for example, through the new practice of using armed forces by the decision of individual states -- is a very dangerous trend which may pose a serious threat to Russia's political and military-political interests in the future," he said.

Karaganov described current NATO-Russia relations as "very tranquil and courteous" despite the pending expansion but said the alliance's eastward march -- particularly if it involved stationing military systems such as antiballistic missile radar in countries near Russia -- still posed risks. "Any country that allows the deployment of strategic weapons on its territory automatically becomes a target, regardless of any political relations," Karaganov said.

"Let's hope that it does not happen."


Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.

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