Russian defense minister criticizes NATO expansion

Meeting with Rumsfeld, Ivanov says alliance's members should worry

August 15, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Defense Minister Sergei B. Ivanov of Russia criticized yesterday NATO's expansion into the three Baltic states and said that citizens of the Western alliance's original member countries should be worried, too, that their tax dollars were being wasted.

In a weekend visit by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Ivanov said he remained "reserved and negative" about the entry into NATO in March of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, three former Soviet republics.

At a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Colorado Springs, Colo., in October, Ivanov complained that if the alliance expanded into the Baltics, it would be able to station combat jets "a three-minute flight away from St. Petersburg."

Yesterday, as the host for Rumsfeld in that city after the Baltic states had entered NATO, Ivanov said the alliance risked wasting money and weakening itself by welcoming small states that could not contribute to the collective defense of the members.

"Those Baltic countries are consumers of security, not producers," Ivanov said. "Of course, it is none of our business to be theorizing about how effectively the NATO countries' tax money is being spent."

Ivanov said that basing a few NATO fighters in the Baltics would not help prevent terrorism. "We cannot understand how these four planes can intercept al-Qaida, the Taliban or anything else," he said. "The only thing they can intercept is a mythical Soviet threat."

In defense of the Atlantic alliance, Rumsfeld said Russia's relationship with NATO is growing and "has been constructive."

He said Russia should understand that NATO, likewise, is no threat to Russian security. Of Moscow's concerns about the Baltic states' entry into the alliance, he said, "This is a relatively new issue."

Rumsfeld agreed with Ivanov in noting concerns that Russia does not have bilateral agreements with Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia, as it does with many other neighbors, aimed at avoiding military confrontation.

Ivanov broadened his criticism of the Baltic states to include their support of the Nazis in World War II. Russia, he said, is concerned "that the Baltic states do have inconsistencies with respect to their human rights record," citing monuments he said had been erected in "the glorification" of Baltic support of the Nazi war effort.

Rather than have the standard day of meetings in the capital, Rumsfeld accepted Ivanov's invitation to spend the weekend in St. Petersburg, holding talks and touring palaces and museums in the city that Peter the Great built as Russia's "window on the West."

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