- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

MOSCOW — Russia issued a sharp warning yesterday to the United States and the former Soviet republics looking to join NATO, saying expansion of the bloc into lands the Kremlin considers its back yard would have a “colossal” and negative effect.

In a statement to the Russian parliament, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “membership in NATO for countries like Ukraine or Georgia would mean a colossal geopolitical shift” and would compel Moscow to respond to safeguard its security and other national interests.

“We evaluate all possible consequences first and foremost from the point of view of the national interest of Russia,” he said.

The lower house of parliament, the Duma, overwhelmingly approved a “message” to the parliament of Ukraine expressing the “serious concern” of the Russian legislature at Kiev’s goal of joining NATO.

Ukraine’s drive to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was a violation of a 1997 Russia-Ukraine treaty and, if fulfilled, “would have negative consequences for the entire range of relations between our two fraternal peoples,” the Duma message said.

Mr. Lavrov followed his warning to Ukraine and Georgia with an attack on U.S. strategic policy, saying U.S. plans to deploy low-yield nuclear weapons and mount conventional warheads on intercontinental missiles undermined agreements aimed at containing the spread of dangerous weapons.

He also accused Washington of backtracking on disarmament. The United States is trying “not only to remove the question of disarmament from the world agenda, but also from the public view,” ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Mr. Lavrov as saying.

Shortly after Mr. Lavrov spoke, the head of the Russian FSB national security service, Nikolai Patrushev, also rebuked the United States, accusing Washington of double standards.

“We see that in the war on terrorists, when they need to, they act forcefully, putting generally accepted norms on rights and freedoms of citizens on the back burner,” he said.

The warnings to Ukraine came as pro-Russian lawmakers and protesters in Crimea demanded the cancellation of joint military exercises with U.S. forces scheduled to take place this month.

Deputy Defense Minister Leonid Polyakov said the exercises could take place in another country if parliament did not approve the access of foreign troops to Ukrainian territory.

But Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry reiterated that Ukrainian membership in NATO posed no threat to Russia. A spokesman said the Kremlin had said it respected Ukraine’s sovereign right to choose its own security arrangements. “This reaction seems to us a bit overblown and doesn’t conform to reality.”

In Moscow, independent defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer was skeptical of Russia’s ability to keep Ukraine out of NATO.

“The leadership appears to believe that Russia can actually take on the West successfully and push NATO out,” Mr. Felgenhauer said. “They’re living in a fool’s paradise. This is a balloon that is going to hit a nail very soon.”

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