Friday, January 11, 2008

Putin Names Nationalist to NATO Post

The Washington Post - Peter Finn

MOSCOW, Jan. 10 -- President Vladimir Putin on Thursday appointed a prominent nationalist and political gadfly as Russia's new permanent representative to NATO, a decision that signals the Kremlin's determination to confront the military alliance across a host of divisive issues.

Dmitry Rogozin, a former lawmaker who has been in and out of favor with the Kremlin, has harshly criticized NATO and U.S. policies, including the alliance's eastward expansion and American plans to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

In an interview before his expected appointment, Rogozin said that he hoped to build a constructive relationship between Russia and NATO but that in the post-Cold War world, the alliance had lost its reason for being.

"NATO's problem is that it is trying to invent an enemy in order to keep the alliance together," Rogozin said last month in an interview at the Russian parliament. "That is why people who are looking for a motivation for NATO need to present Russia as an enemy. Why is NATO expanding to the east and at the same time claims that the threat is coming from the south? If the threat is coming from the south, why don't they go to the south?"

Rogozin, 44, led the nationalist Rodina party into parliament in 2003 promising to protect the interests of "ethnic Russians." However, the party, which was created with the Kremlin's backing to siphon votes from the Communist Party, was reined in when Rogozin and other leaders began to strike an increasingly independent line.

Rodina was banned from contesting local elections in Moscow when the courts found that its political advertising was racist. In 2006, Rogozin was forced out of the party leadership.

Rodina was subsequently folded into Fair Russia, another Kremlin creation, which won seats in parliament in last month's elections.

Rogozin attempted to create another party, which was denied registration, and allied himself with some openly xenophobic groups. Analysts here said that the Kremlin remained wary of his appeal and that the appointment to NATO exports a potential rival and simultaneously pokes the alliance in the eye.

"Rogozin is a capable leader, and the first reason for the appointment is to get him out of Moscow," said Alexander Golts, a journalist who specializes in defense matters. "And of course there is a message. It's clear that Russia doesn't want any positive development in relations between the West and Russia. . . . Rogozin will be very happy to annoy NATO. It will be his pleasure."

Rogozin said his rapprochement with the Kremlin came as no surprise and dismissed any suggestion that he was being exiled.

"If they had appointed me a prima ballerina in the Bolshoi Theater or a tiger tamer in the circus, I would be surprised," he said with characteristic wit. "It means that at this point, people such as me are needed. . . . NATO is not Antarctica, not even Siberia."

Rogozin has had particularly strained relations with the Baltic countries -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all NATO members -- because of his allegations of mistreatment of ethnic Russians there. In 2004, he was refused a visa to visit Latvia after he said it had become a "country of hooligans and outlaws where they get even with our veterans as well as with our children by closing Russian-language schools." He accused the country of having Nazi leadership.

Rogozin said he will oppose any further eastward expansion of NATO, particularly into Georgia, where Mikheil Saakashvili, elected this month to another term as president, is seeking membership.

"Are you seriously ready to accept a country which has not been able to solve any of its serious problems, a country which does not comply with any of NATO's standards?" Rogozin asked. "Why does NATO need to create this kind of problems for itself?"

Russia supports the separatist leaders of two breakaway parts of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Rogozin said Russia and NATO need to cooperate in such areas as the fight against terrorism, drug-trafficking and transnational crime. But relations are being spoiled by the alliance's fixation on expanding into the former Soviet Union and building up its military capability on Russia's borders, he said.

The Bush administration has said it wants to create a missile defense system in Eastern Europe to guard against a potential threat from Iran. But Rogozin said he did not believe Iran was capable of developing missiles that could target either the United States or Western Europe.

He drew parallels to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. "What if we put our missiles in Cuba and in Venezuela . . . and say we intend to take down missiles coming from Haiti that represent a threat to our territory?"

Rogozin said Russia and NATO should create a common antimissile system and jokingly warned of the consequences of failing to do so. "Let's have common ears and eyes and a common fist," he said. "What is happening now? Just the opposite. Like in the worst script for 'The Terminator.' "

"To take down one Iranian missile, the antimissile system will have to use 10 antimissiles," he continued. "We may not detect one Iranian missile, but we will detect 10 or 100 antimissiles coming from Poland and

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