Friday, April 4, 2008

Putin warns NATO against further expansion to Russia's borders

BUCHAREST, April 4 (RIA Novosti) - Any further expansion by NATO toward Russia's borders will be interpreted as a direct threat to the country's security, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday.

"The appearance on our borders of a powerful military bloc... will be considered by Russia as a direct threat to our country's security," Putin told a news conference after meeting with leaders of the 26-nation alliance on the sidelines of a summit in Bucharest.

NATO members decided on Thursday to postpone offering the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine the chance to join the alliance's Membership Action Plan (MAP). However, it was later announced that their bids would be reviewed in December. Their bids had received strong U.S. backing.

The former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, all which border Russia, are currently members of NATO.

Despite his warning, Putin said that the discussions had been "constructive," and that Moscow's position on the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty had been taken into account by NATO.

Russia temporarily withdrew from the crucial arms control treaty in December amid concerns over NATO's ongoing eastward expansion, Washington's missile defense plans for Europe and NATO countries' reluctance to ratify the document.

"My impression is that I was heard by our partners on the CFE problem. They are prepared either to ratify the existing treaty or discuss new arrangements. In any event, we have to do something together rather than taking unilateral steps ... such an approach has no future," he said.

He also said he was happy that Russia's concerns over U.S. plans to deploy a missile base in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic had also been heard by NATO, and that Washington and Moscow would continue to discuss the issue.

"A positive moment in today's dialogue was that our national security concerns over the possible introduction of the missile shield proposed by our American partners were finally heard," he said.

Putin added that he would continue to discuss the issue over the weekend with U.S. President George Bush in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi. The meeting is set to be the last between the two leaders, who are due to step down in May and January 2009, respectively.

Putin also said a new Cold War was impossible as there were no more ideological divides in Europe.

"No, this is impossible. No one is interested in this," he said. "No global players, Europe, the United States and Russia, are interested in returning to the past. This is unnecessary," he said

However, he insisted that Russia would make no concessions to the West at the expense of its own security, saying, "Why should we be flexible if it's a question of a threat to our security?"