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NATO Secretary General Meets with Russian President Putin - 2004-04-08

This was Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's first official visit to Moscow in his capacity as NATO secretary general. He said his mission was to convince Russia's leaders that the Western alliance poses no threat to the security of Russia.

In comments broadcast on Russian state television, President Putin warned the NATO chief that the alliance's expansion has not helped combat Thursday's security challenges. Mr. Putin said the enlargement did not prevent terrorist attacks in Madrid, and it has not helped us solve the problems in Afghanistan.

He underlined that Russia sees some good in NATO's expansion. Mr. Putin said he hopes the expansion will contribute to building confidence in Europe and around the world, and that it will be an instrument to strengthen international security.

The NATO secretary general sought to reassure Russians that the enlargement poses no threat to Russia.

"The enlarged NATO does not have any motive or plan, which would run counter to the interests of Russia," he said. "The new NATO nations do not have any intention of building military infrastructure or stationing more troops on their soil."

But Mr. De Hoop Scheffer faces an uphill struggle in persuading Russians that NATO is a friend. In a radio poll conducted during a live interview with the secretary general, more than 70 percent of listeners said they regard NATO's expansion as a threat.

Last week, Russian lawmakers passed a resolution, allowing them to reconsider Russia's defense strategy, if NATO ignores Moscow's interests.

Victor Kremeniuk, from the U.S.A.-Canada Institute in Moscow, says the Russian leadership is divided on the issue.

"The Russian elite consists of different people," Mr. Kremeniuk said. "Part of them are coming directly from the Soviet past, who still sometimes do not suspect that the Cold War is over. Equally, there are a lot of newcomers, who have come to the higher echelons of politics. I would not say that any of these groups outweigh the other, because we have one central figure, the president, and if he says NATO is good, then NATO is good."