Russia concerned over Nato expansion

BRATISLAVA, Aug 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Avdeyev said on Monday his country remained concerned over the possible eastwards expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Former Soviet Bloc states the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary became the NATO members in 1999, 10 years after the fall of the "iron curtain" that once separated them from their current Western European allies.

Slovakia and other former Soviet bloc states are among a large group of European countries also vying for NATO membership at the first possible opportunity.

But Avdeyev said the NATO's further expansion could be a set-back in relations between the military alliance and Russia.

"The first wave of NATO enlargement brought... I would say, the destabilization of the balance of powers in Europe... We had to include... these new occurrences in our agreement with NATO to overcome this deformation," Avdeyev told journalists during a one-day visit to Bratislava.

"But if there is a second wave of expansion and especially, if it will also include former states of the Soviet Union, this (work) would become worthless," he said.

Slovakia was once alongside the newest NATO members as a top candidate for accession, but was excluded from the group in 1997, after then-Premier Vladimir Meciar had been criticized by the West for undemocratic activities.

The new, reformist government of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, which defeated Meciar in a 1998 election, has made membership of the alliance one of its key priorities.

"It is our priority to get membership in the European Union and NATO," said Slovak Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Figel. "We are convinced we could be a good partner for the Russian Federation even as a member of these structures."

Avdeyev, meanwhile, criticized NATO for what he said was its lack of respect for international law, which he said could be illustrated by the NATO-led bombing of Yugoslavia last year.

"NATO so far has not included the rule of international law in its rules... Both sides (NATO and Russia) agreed they would change their military doctrines, but I have to say that NATO doctrine has been changing very, very slowly," he said.

"This, along with an absence of the rule of international law included in the NATO rules, makes us concerned," Avdeyev added.

Original article