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Friday, 22 November, 2002, 15:31 GMT
Russia's rocky relationship with Nato
Russian military convoy in Chechnya
Nato expansion is forcing Russia to reform its military

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has said he is glad Nato no longer regards Russia as a threat.

But he stressed, once again, that Russia continues to oppose what he called the "mechanical expansion" of Nato.

Instead, he called for a "transformation" of the alliance - Russian double-speak for wanting Nato to become a political organisation.

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov, left and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
Mr Ivanov (l) represented Russia at the Nato summit in Prague
On the one hand, Russia accepts that it is powerless to stop Nato expansion and that it must reconcile itself to a new reality.

This gives scope for co-operation between Nato and Russia, but it can also be seen - to some extent - as an acknowledgement that the consistently maintained official policy of opposing Nato expansion has been a failure.

On the other hand, Russia has sought to forge closer links with Nato at a political level - the so-called "Nato plus one" formula.

Divided opinions

There has been a great deal of dialogue, as well as face-saving effort, from both sides.

Russia's political influence over Nato's decision-making processes is limited, but the acceptance of Russia as a nation whose voice matters is widely welcomed within the country.

Opinion polls show that public perception of Nato in Russia has changed. A significant minority of respondents say they think Russia will also, one day, join up.

This is a far cry from the events of March 1999, when the start of Nato's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia led to an outburst of anti-Nato sentiments.

Nato flags outside the conference centre
Many Russians are sceptical of Nato's expansion plans
But there is also real opposition to Nato expansion - and even to Nato's continued existence after the Cold War.

This is a view shared by a very large part of Russia's military and foreign affairs establishment.

Educated and trained during the Soviet period, they are still inculcated with notions of super-power military might.

It has been painful for these people to see Nato's outer edge creep ever closer to what was once the frontier of the USSR.

Military reform

Nato expansion is also one of the factors forcing the pace of military reform in Russia.

The country's armed forces are still bloated despite recent cuts. Equipment is old: troops are badly clothed and poorly fed.

And in what provokes national shame, hundreds of conscripts still die every year as a result of bullying.

These are hardly the sort of forces Nato can boast of and wants to see in its new member states.

Sensing entrenched resistance, Vladimir Putin has put off military reform until very recently.

But as the Prague summit got underway, the Russian defence minister finally fleshed out the long-awaited details of military reform.

He says Russia is to have a smaller, better, professional army of battle-ready, contract soldiers by 2007.

Expanding Nato

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22 Nov 02 | Europe
21 Nov 02 | Europe
21 Nov 02 | Europe
20 Nov 02 | Middle East
14 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
16 Oct 02 | Politics
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