Russian military issues warning to NATO

A Defense Ministry document released Thursday emphasizes that Russia will have to make radical changes in its military reform plans -- including its nuclear strategy -- if NATO continues to exist in its present form.

Separately, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia would not rule out a pre-emptive attack anywhere in the world if Russia's interests demand it.

The blustery warning to NATO came in a document on the modernization of the armed forces that was developed by the ministry and distributed to reporters before President Vladimir Putin met with Ivanov and other top military officials to discuss plans to reform Russia's military, which have drawn opposition from top brass.

"If NATO is preserved as a military alliance with its existing offensive military doctrine, this will demand a radical reconstruction of Russian military planning and the principles of construction of the Russian armed forces, including changes in Russian nuclear strategy,'' the document says.

It was unclear whether the undated document, which did not contain details about changes that could be made if NATO does not soften its stance, had the Kremlin's blessing.

Last year, Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush signed a treaty under which the two sides are to slash their nuclear arsenals by about two-thirds over a decade.

Putin has sharply improved ties with NATO, the Soviet Union's Cold War foe, and accepted its expansion into former Soviet republics on Russia's borders -- a major source of Kremlin ire in the 1990s -- without vehement opposition. But many in the military are angry about NATO's expansion and what they see as U.S. military ambitions in regions once dominated by Moscow.

They are particularly worried that U.S. and other NATO forces might be based in former Soviet bloc nations of eastern Europe.

"Russia is attentively watching the process of NATO's transformation and is counting on the complete removal of direct and indirect components of an anti-Russian bent from both the military planning and the political declarations of alliance member nations,'' the document says.

It also says that Russia is counting on expanded political, military and economic cooperation with the United States as well as cooperation in the fight against international terrorism. But it adds that "in relations with the United States, Russia proceeds from the need to strictly observe international law and the primacy of its own national interests.''

In a clear reference to the U.S.-led war against Iraq without naming any specific countries, it says that the use force without U.N. approval may prompt countries to seek to develop nuclear weapons as a potential deterrent, hurting international security instead of enhancing it. Putin strongly criticized the war and has voiced similar worries.

At the same time, Ivanov said Russia itself would not rule out the preventive use of force, the Interfax news agency reported. "We cannot absolutely exclude the preventive use of force if the interests of Russia or its alliance obligations demand it,'' Interfax quoted Ivanov as saying at the meeting. He did not specifically mention the use of nuclear weapons.

A Russian national security doctrine unveiled in 2002 allowed the country's leaders to use all existing forces including nuclear weapons to oppose any attack if other efforts fail to repel the aggressor. The previous doctrine stated that Russia would use nuclear weapons only in cases when its national sovereignty was threatened.

Again without mentioning the United States, it also it suggests the Russian military is concerned about U.S. efforts to develop new low-yield nuclear weapons an is considering how to respond. "Lowering the threshold of the use of nuclear weapons will require reforming the armed forces command system and approaches to responding to different threats,'' it says.

[Source: Malaysia Star, AP, 2Oct03]

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