Friday, November 23, 2001

MOSCOW NATO and Russia will live together or perish apart, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said yesterday after talks aimed to upgrade Moscow’s ties to the military alliance and strengthen the former enemies’ resolve to join forces for the fight against terrorism.

Mr. Robertson said it was in the interests of both Russia and NATO to increase cooperation in combating terrorism and dealing with the dangers posed by biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

“International terrorism has gone global,” Mr. Robertson said. “International security must go global as well. Either we live and work together or we will perish apart.”

He suggested NATO must take advantage of the efforts Russian President Vladimir Putin has made to bring his nation closer to the West in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.

“We are at a moment of unprecedented cooperation, the closest cooperation between Russia and the West since the battle against fascism 60 years ago and we need to build on that,” Mr. Robertson added after meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Mr. Putin said Russia “does not intend to stand in line for NATO membership.” But he said as he has said repeatedly since the September 11 attacks that the threat of terrorism demands closer cooperation between Russia its former Cold War foes.

“We are ready to bring our positions closer to NATO’s in many directions, to the extent that the alliance itself is ready for that,” Mr. Putin told a group of senior Russian lawmakers. “We are looking toward positive, constructive relations with all countries and international organizations, especially in the sphere of security.”

Mr. Robertson and Mr. Putin meet today to discuss a proposal by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to enhance Russia’s role in NATO decision-making. Currently, contacts are limited to dialogue in a body called the Permanent Joint Council, and Russian officials have complained of being informed of key decisions only after the fact.

Before arriving in Moscow yesterday afternoon, Mr. Robertson paid homage to Russia’s World War II heroes. He laid a wreath by the eternal flame at the war memorial in the southern city of Volgograd formerly Stalingrad the site of a decisive and brutal battle of World War II and an enduring symbol of Russia’s sacrifice in the war against the Nazis.

Mr. Robertson’s visit reflects the swiftly improving relations between Russia and NATO after years of suspicion. Russia has sharply opposed NATO’s eastward expansion and bristled at plans to include the former Soviet republics of the Baltic region in an alliance that was formed as a guard against Moscow as relations between the wartime allies deteriorated.

Relations were also strained by NATO’s 1999 air strikes against Yugoslavia. Russia, a traditional ally of the Serbs, opposed the campaign.

Since the attacks in the United States, however, the two sides have begun to view each other as partners or at least potential partners.

Mr. Putin has voiced strong support for the U.S.-led anti-terrorism operation in Afghanistan, and Russia has given assistance in the form of intelligence. Russia also gave a green light to U.S. troops to be stationed in former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

By backing the U.S.-led campaign, Mr. Putin has won some breathing room on his war against separatists in mostly Muslim Chechnya. After Mr. Putin pledged Russia’s support, Washington endorsed the Kremlin’s allegations of ties between the rebels and terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Robertson said NATO members sympathize with the problems Russia faces in the conflict in Chechnya, but that concerns about the excessive use of force and human rights violations remain.

“We sympathize with Russia. We work alongside Russia in dealing with the terrorist network,” Mr. Robertson said. “But we still retain some concerns about the means Russia has used and that hasn’t changed.”

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