- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 7, 2010

BRUSSELS (AP) — Russia will demand that NATO drop its secret agreement to defend the Baltic States against any military attack, Russia’s envoy to the alliance said Tuesday.

According to confidential U.S. cables released by WikiLeaks, NATO privately decided in January to expand a defense plan for Poland to also cover NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which border Russia.

The release of the cables is an embarrassment for both Russia and the alliance because it comes at a time of reconciliation between the former Cold War rivals, when both sides have been emphasizing how close their relations have become.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was meeting with top European Union officials on Tuesday in Brussels, where both parties signed an agreement helping clear the way for Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization next year.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, said he would bring up the NATO agreement to defend the Baltic States during Wednesday’s meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve ties between the two entities.

“We must get some assurances that such plans will be dropped and that Russia is not an enemy for NATO,” he said. “I expect my colleagues from the NATO-Russia Council to confirm that Lisbon has made all the difference.”

Mr. Rogozin said that despite official denials by NATO officials, the plan clearly was aimed at his country. “Against whom else could such a defense be intended? Against Sweden, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, against polar bears or against the Russian bear?” the envoy said.

NATO’s core obligation is to defend all its member states, but the alliance initially had not prepared detailed military plans for the defense of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since they joined in 2004. But after Russia’s quick victory in the 2008 war with Georgia, the three nations began pressing for a greater U.S. and NATO presence.

In a January-dated cable posted on the WikiLeaks website, the U.S. State Department told its embassies to keep the NATO plan secret because “a public discussion of contingency planning would also likely lead to an unnecessary increase in NATO-Russia tensions.”

Russia cooperates closely with NATO in the Afghan war and in counternarcotics and maritime anti-piracy operations. Mr. Medvedev attended the alliance’s summit last month in Lisbon, where NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized that NATO and Russia pose no threat to each other.

At that meeting, the alliance adopted its new official doctrine, which states that NATO-Russia cooperation is of crucial importance since it contributes to creating “a common space of peace, stability and security.”

Speaking after his meeting Tuesday with EU leaders, Mr. Medvedev avoided the controversy over NATO’s Baltic defense plans. He only noted that the atmosphere at the NATO-Russia summit in Lisbon was very friendly, adding that “we need to preserve that spirit.”

Still, the cables indicated that some nations remained wary of Moscow’s intentions, particularly following its defeat of Georgia’s Western-trained army after it tried to recapture the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

In another cable to the U.S. State Department last December, Paul Teesalu, security director in the Estonian Foreign Ministry, described the NATO defense plan as an “early Christmas present.” He said such discussions should be conducted out of the public eye, saying that Estonia is looking for “solidarity, not visibility.”

The plan, code-named Eagle Guardian, has a number of NATO units agreeing to defend Poland and the Baltics in case of attack. It also identifies ports in Poland and Germany that alliance naval forces would use in case of war.

In a third cable from a year ago, Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said that Germany had initiated the proposal to include the Baltic States in Eagle Guardian.

Alliance spokeswoman Oana Lungescu declined on Tuesday to comment on the contents of the WikiLeaks memos. “But NATO has always had and will continue to have appropriate plans to protect all allies. This is at the core of our collective defense task,” Ms. Lungescu said.

Germany’s Foreign and Defense ministries also declined to comment.

Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Brussels and Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed to this report.