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The Russian Reaction to NATO Expansion

Global Beat Issue Brief No. 28
February 24, 1998

Press Briefing with Vladimir Lukin, chairman of
the Russian Duma's Committee on International Affairs

U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Madelaine Albright and senators from both parties, have stated recently that expanding membership in NATO will benefit Russia and that Russian officials have little objection to it. Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the Russian Duma's Committee on International Affairs, contradicted this assertion during a press conference on February 24.

"It is not the truth," he told 16 reporters who participated in a teleconference hosted by the Global Reporting Network of New York University's Center for War, Peace, and the News Media. "Of course we are offended" by NATO enlargement. He said that expanding the alliance is "dangerous," that it is "isolating Russia, and that it "will strengthen the nationalist forces in Russia."

Lukin, who served as the Russian ambassador to the United States from 1992 to 1993, is one of the leaders of "Yabloko" faction in the Russian government. Earlier in his career, Lukin served as an analyst at the Institute for the USA and Canada studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences for nearly two decades.

Lukin briefed the journalists on the Russian reaction to NATO expansion in light of larger concerns about NATO and U.S. policies -- including the current tensions surrounding U.S. policy toward Iraq.

"We are interested in the triumph of democracy in the Northern Hemisphere," he said. "We want a secure democracy from the Atlantic to Vladivostok. But we feel isolated and neglected. We want to act as a responsible partner in the world community. But not separately.

"We need to be respected," he added. "Our security problems are not less than the security problems of France, Britain or Poland. The selective entrance into NATO -- that is the problem."

Lukin took questions from the journalists for about an hour. Some asked him about the recent showdown with Saddam Hussein and Russia's position. Most addressed the issue of NATO expansion. The following is an edited transcript of the Q&A session.

Boston Globe: "If the United States attempts a military action or tries to overthrow Saddam Hussein, what will be the effect on Russian-U.S. relations and NATO enlargement?"

Lukin: "It would be a big mistake if the U.S. was offended by Russian policy toward Iraq or another country.... Russia's policy toward Iraq is not only Russia's policy -- we coincide with many other countries, including U.S. allies." Lukin stressed that he is "pro-American" but criticized the United States for staking out a unilateral, hard-line position regarding Iraq. He said the best approach is a multilateral one.

With regard to NATO, "Of course we are offended" by NATO enlargement, he said. "We have reasons to be unhappy. It is not the best way to be partners. Being partners means consulting with each other."

Arms Control Today: "How do you assess the NATO-Russian permanent joint council? Does it provide Russia with an adequate voice at the NATO table?"

Lukin: "That depends on how the council will work. I'm glad we have it. But if the council is simply a rubber stamp, putting its stamp on previous decisions of NATO, it means nothing. It would be just form, not substance."

Lukin suggested that the idea of any country attacking a NATO country was absurd given today's international political climate. "What is NATO security? In accordance with Article 5, if a NATO country is attacked there will be a joint counterattack. That is tantamount to an attack from outer space."

He cited instead what he considered to be "real" security threats to Europe. "There are new risks: Albania, Yugoslavia, drugs, organized crime. We have to discuss the real problems of European security together. If the mechanism is effective to solve these problems it will be good. If we are outsiders and don't participate, we will make our security on our own."

Knight-Ridder: "Will Russia work with the United States on establishing new leadership in Iraq? How can we resolve Russian feelings of isolation?"

Lukin: "The Soviet Union tried to establish different regimes in different countries and I'm not happy about it. We even tried in the United States. We were defeated and I don't want to repeat it. I would prefer that the Iraqi people resolve the situation. Any regime introduced from the outside is usually a problem."

He then addressed the question of Russian isolation. "Of course Russia will not introduce another 'iron curtain,' or respond militarily, but Russia [could] be the most valuable strategic partner of the United States in the next century. What happens in Asia -- with China -- and Europe ... needs to be resolved. Russia is the most important country" the United States could work with.

San Francisco Chronicle: "U.S. officials have been saying that Russia has no objections to NATO enlargement."

Lukin: "It is not the truth. But I'm not saying we think NATO will invade Russia tomorrow. The problem is whether Russia is considered part of the Atlantic community or not. Russia will have to decide how it is being considered -- as an equal partner or an outsider.

"NATO enlargement is isolating Russia. What is the choice for us? Only to be an outsider. Not a hostile outsider, but still an outsider. It is a danger. We will become stronger, and we are still a nuclear power. It is a danger to us and a danger to you. A few years ago there was the idea of partnership, now there is a strong hesitation in the United States."

National Public Radio: "How will NATO enlargement affect the Start II vote in the Duma?"

Lukin: "The United States neglected our strategic concerns. How can we reduce our most powerful strategic weapons when relations are put into question? It is not a problem strategically, but psychologically it is a big problem.

"I think [a positive vote in the Duma] is possible, but it is a long way ahead.... The lack of confidence is an important thing."

Slovak News Agency: "Three countries were chosen to become new NATO members, but Slovakia was not chosen. Is that because it leans to the East? [Senator] Joe Biden says the inclusion of the three new countries enhances Russian security. What do you think?"

Lukin: "I cannot say Slovakia is more oriented toward the East or the West. It is more oriented toward Slovakia...."

Lukin believes NATO expansion is creating new dividing lines across Europe: "In the early '90s there was talk of a common European home, with no dividing lines. There are now dividing lines between countries that are in NATO and new potential partners. Next, there are dividing lines between NATO and the rejected countries, such as Ukraine. Then there are dividing lines between countries like Ukraine and Russia.

"Why are we producing such dividing lines? That is why I am against such a strategy. I'm not against NATO but you can destroy it by over-enlarging it. The same thing happened to Rome. Russia and Sweden both are not members of NATO and participate in the European effort to enforce security. Why does the Czech Republic need to be a member?"

Slovak News Agency: "What about Joe Biden's assumption that the three new countries in NATO enhances the security of Russia?"

Lukin: "Biden is a not more able to speak for Russian security than me or Boris Yeltsin. But if you do not enlarge NATO I am ready to consider that Russia has less security."

Washington Times: "The new message out of the [Clinton] administration is that NATO enlargement is good for Russia because it guarantees democratic stability in those countries. Secretary of State Albright said today that the United States can build a true partnership with Russia but not by denying a dozen more European countries membership in NATO."

Lukin: The administration "is not taking into account Russian opinion. It thinks Russia should be happy about [NATO enlargement]."

Washington Times: "What about the idea of a dozen more European states in NATO?"

Lukin: "If you include the Baltic nations you will make a big mistake.... I don't know any one reasonable person who can believe that the United States or any other NATO country would agree to wage war with a nuclear power to defend the borders between Estonia and Russia. Ethnic Russians live in Estonia near that border. Joining the Baltic countries to NATO means the end of the credibility of NATO. Over-enlarging NATO will destroy NATO; it makes it less credible. It will be very offensive to Russia. It will strengthen the nationalist forces in Russia."

National Security News Service (Washington): "You said the Start II Treaty ratification may be a long way ahead. Will the Duma vote by the middle of this year? The U.S. Senate is unwilling to ratify any other nuclear treaty until the Duma votes on Start II."

Lukin: "It is impossible to say what the timeline is. Enlargement of course antagonizes the Duma. It is possible there will be a vote on Start II within the next several months, not years."

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