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Russian Ships to Join NATO Anti-Terror Patrol in Mediterranean - 2004-10-14

Russia is sending naval vessels to join NATO warships conducting anti-terrorism patrols in the Mediterranean Sea. NATO defense ministers and their Russian counterpart have promised to boost cooperation in fighting terrorism.

NATO officials say two Russian warships will join the alliance's naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean within a few weeks. The NATO operation was set up just after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, and its aim is to monitor shipping throughout the Mediterranean and intercept vessels suspected of being linked to terrorists.

Although the Russian move has been discussed for several months, final agreement on Moscow's support for the operation was reached only recently.

The school siege at Beslan, in southern Russia, which resulted in more than 330 deaths, has given a new impetus to Moscow's cooperation with NATO. The alliance says working together to fight terrorism is the main item on the agenda of the NATO-Russia Council, which was set up two years ago to enhance cooperation between the old Cold War foes.

Russia has been wary of what it considers NATO's unwarranted expansion into areas of former Soviet influence. Seven Eastern European countries, including the three Baltic nations once occupied by the Soviet Union, joined NATO this year, and Russia is still uncomfortable with having its former adversary on its border.

But Sergei Ivanov told reporters that he is satisfied with the way the NATO-Russia Council is working and is pleased with the growing military cooperation between Russia and NATO.

"If we talk about the exclusively military area, then the practice of joint exercises, joint meetings, has become routine, we have exercises at the moment which are happening in a routine way, in parallel or one after the other," he said.

But the Russian defense minister, in a sign that there is still friction between Moscow and the West, rejected western criticism of his country's policies in Chechnya. He also repeated Moscow's pledge to launch pre-emptive strikes against suspected terrorists outside Russia's borders.