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Russa Plans to Join NATO's Partnership for Peace Soon

By Richard Boudreaux
Los Angeles Times

Russia said Thursday that it will join NATO's Partnership for Peace by the month's end and was assured by Defense Secretary William 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 alliance.

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

American 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 American defense official told Reuters news agency.

Perry told Grachev "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 an American 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 they are joining Partnership for Peace not so much as 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 hoped 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 peace-keeping operations, keep terrorists from stealing nuclear or chemical weapons and to 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. "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."