Russia bristles at NATO growth Defensive: Western military analysts are taking note of a Moscow think tank's proposal to meet NATO's eastward expansion with tactical nuclear weapons and perhaps an invasion.

Sun Journal

March 01, 1996|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Russia's leaders have never been shy about their dislike of NATO's plans to expand. As envisioned by the United States, the oldest military alliance will one day have East European states as members -- countries that used to be under the sway of Moscow.

Now, military thinkers in Moscow are considering how Russia should respond -- and some of their ideas are alarming to the West. They call for installing tactical nuclear missiles closer to countries that join the alliance and perhaps even invading the Baltic countries.

Those are still only ideas, and defense planners are paid to examine every possible scenario. But a study prepared by a defense-oriented Moscow think tank, along with recent hard-line statements from senior Russian officials, have convinced some Washington analysts that plans to enlarge NATO may involve more danger than the Clinton administration or its European allies expect.

"It ought to make us think a lot more seriously [about] what the real strategic environment is going to look like and what our interests are," says former Pentagon official Sherman Garnett, now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

The Russian options paper, which began circulating last fall in Moscow, was prepared by the Independent Institute of Defense Studies, a Moscow think tank that often conducts studies for the Russian Defense Ministry. It is a response to a 2-year-old policy of the West designed to eventually admit Eastern European countries into the Atlantic alliance.

The document calls for sharply increasing Russia's reliance on nuclear weapons to compensate for the severe decline in its conventional military forces over the past decade. Some of these weapons would be deployed in former Soviet territory outside Russia.

Given the "crumbling" state of Russia's armed forces, as seen in Chechnya, there are doubts that Russia's military command would put the proposals into effect. "It's not a battle that many in the Russian elite want to launch right now," says Stephen Foye of the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank that specializes in the former Soviet Union.

But other analysts note that it is precisely this new Russian military weakness that the strategy is designed to counteract, and they say the growing nationalism in Moscow gives the paper added plausibility.

Its author is Anton Surikov, an influential defense analyst and the son of a prominent member of Russia's military-industrial complex. The paper has circulated in Washington among specialists inside and outside government.

In the event of NATO expansion, Mr. Surikov suggests putting tactical, or short-range, nuclear weapons into border territories and into neighboring countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union. These include Belarus, which borders Poland; Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea; Georgia; and Armenia.

If the Baltic countries are admitted to NATO, the study advocates an even tougher response: "In the event that NATO embarks on admitting the Baltic republics to its membership, Russian Federation Armed forces should be sent into the territory of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia," it says.

The options paper also says that, if necessary, Russia could intimidate the West by selling missile technologies to the outlaw states of Iran, Iraq and Algeria, and possibly form a military alliance with Iran that would allow Russian troops and tactical nuclear weapons to be stationed near the Persian Gulf.

Mary C. FitzGerald, an analyst at the conservative-leaning Hudson Institute here, says the document may reflect the views of Russian Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev.

Certainly the thinking behind it "has a lot of sympathizers within the Ministry of Defense," says Mr. Garnett of the Carnegie Endowment.

"These are definitely ideas being discussed inside the Russian military establishment," says Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom and a specialist on Russian affairs.

The Clinton administration is split on how much importance to attach to the paper and undeterred in its drive to enlarge NATO gradually and peacefully.

"I don't take it very seriously," says an administration official who follows Russia closely. "It represents a segment, but not a large segment, of national security thinking in Russia."

But another official says that some of its arguments have "real resonance" in Moscow and notes that no one can authoritatively predict how Russia will respond to NATO expansion.

The publication of the options paper coincides with increasingly tough rhetoric in Moscow. Last September, General Grachev warned that expansion of the alliance into the Baltic countries would be "the last straw" for Russia.

Then, in a speech Feb. 3, Deputy Defense Minister Andrei A. Kokoschin warned that NATO expansion would doom existing arms control agreements: "Many spheres of arms limitation and reduction would be severely -- and maybe mortally -- affected by NATO expansion to the East."

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