The Washington Times - August 3, 2009, 05:00PM

Russia continues its efforts to divide the West and NATO in order to limit American influence in Europe, senior Obama administration officials said Monday.

During a hearing on U.S.-Russia relations before the House Armed Services Committee, the officials also said that Moscow expected significant concessions from the new administration at the beginning of its term in office but was disappointed.

“There are signs of Russian efforts to divide the West and prevent what they see as undue American influence,” said Philip H. Gordon, assistant secretary of state for European affairs.

Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, agreed, saying the Russians are “seeking to create divisions between the U.S. and its allies, particularly the new NATO members.” At the same time, they are “realistic” about the alliance’s security guarantees that extend to those members, he added.

Both officials said that Moscow recently tried to “downgrade” NATO by proposing a new security treaty in Europe, which was rejected by most European countries at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in June.

“We are open to dialogue [with Russia], but we should remain within the established channels based on principles we already agree on,” Mr. Gordon said.

He also suggested that Moscow used the Obama administration’s first six months in office as a “testing period,” thinking that “we were prepared to make all sorts of concessions.” However, “we showed that wasn’t going to be the case,” he added. “We weren’t going to trade off relationships and allies… [and] we stuck to our guns.”

Mr. Gordon praised Russian cooperation in Afghanistan, saying Moscow’s decision to permit U.S. flights over its territory will save Washington about $133 million a year.