WASHINGTON — U.S. President George W. Bush is set to formally welcome the addition of seven new members to the NATO alliance during a ceremony on Monday.
But the inclusion of former communist states Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is raising concerns in Moscow.
Although Russia has improved its relationship with NATO in recent years, it is increasingly wary over the creeping proximity of the organization, a top Russian lawmaker warned.
The 55-year-old alliance was originally set up by the West to counter the Soviet Union’s military might during the Cold War.
However, with Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania set to become part of NATO’s air defense umbrella, alarm bells have been ringing in Russia, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the international affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, said Monday.
All three nations hosted Soviet Red Army troops barely 15 years ago.
“NATO’s steps have had an unfriendly character towards Russia,” The Associated Press quoted Kosachyov as saying in response to the planned basing of four NATO F-16 fighter jets in Lithuania.
The plans will make regular flights near Russia’s border and are able to conduct reconnaissance.
“If significant NATO military bases appear near Russia’s borders and change the balance of forces in this region, then we can’t exclude that Russia will consider the possibility of taking corresponding action so that the balance is not breached,” he said.
NATO has tried to convince Moscow the expansion is not directed at Russia but the military alliance’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who will be at the White House for Monday’s ceremony, told CNN much needed to be done to strengthen NATO-Russian ties.
“We need, in the interests of NATO and in the interests of Russia, a strong partnership, which means that we not only discuss the easy things but also the harder nuts to crack in that relationship,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell last week said Russia should not view a larger NATO as a threat, but as a partner.
President Bush is scheduled to make speak on the expansion of NATO to 26 nations on Monday at 3:45 p.m. (2045 GMT).
NATO was established on April 4, 1949 by 12 nations: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, and the United States.