NATO welcomes Russia as junior, no-vote member

For first time, Moscow will have consulting role in developing strategies

May 29, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ROME - NATO formally welcomed Russia yesterday as a participant but not a voting member in the organization created 53 years ago to contain Soviet power and expansion, a major step in its bid to lock in Moscow's drift toward the West.

Under the agreement signed here yesterday at an extraordinary meeting of the leaders of NATO countries, organized as a capstone to President Bush's six-day tour through Europe and Russia, Moscow will for the first time be given a consultative role in forging NATO strategy on nuclear nonproliferation, crisis management, missile defense and counter-terrorism.

But in an indication that NATO's members are still not fully convinced that Russia's experiment with democracy and capitalism is irreversible, Moscow will not have a role in NATO's core military alliance, in which all members pledge to protect the others from attack.

Nor will Russia have a veto over NATO decisions or a vote in the expansion of its membership, including NATO's plans to invite new nations to join at a meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, in November.

Bush, attending the session at a NATO air base under extraordinary security, said yesterday that "two former foes are now joined as partners, overcoming 50 years of division and a decade of uncertainty."

Bush said the formal agreement to create a "NATO-Russia council" reflected the conclusion that cooperation with the second largest nuclear power "is more likely to be achieved by welcoming Russia West."

Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, fresh from Bush's three-day visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg, clearly reveled in the speed at which he has been able to negotiate both nuclear reductions and a position of respect, if not power, in NATO's councils.

"The significance of this meeting is difficult to overestimate," Putin said earlier, noting that a few years ago such a role for Russia "would have been, simply, unthinkable, whereas today it has become a reality."

But Putin, who at his first meeting with Bush a year ago publicly raised the possibility of full Russian membership in NATO, also injected a note of caution:

"Being realists, we must remember that relations between Russia and the North Atlantic alliance have been historically far from straightforward."

Although Russia was not admitted as a full member and might never be - "we must understand this Rome Declaration represents only a beginning," Putin said.

The new arrangement between Russia and the alliance replaces a 5-year-old accord, negotiated during the Clinton administration, that allowed Russia to take part in discussions with NATO only after all of the alliance's members agreed on a unified position.

That left Russia only able to respond to NATO action, an arrangement that Russia complained was a sham and that the other 19 members of the organization conceded did too little to reflect Russia's concerns and its influence.

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