Friday, January 25, 2008

Russia: No Peacekeepers to Kosovo

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin's newly appointed envoy to NATO emphasized Moscow's opposition to Kosovo's independence bid Thursday, but said Russia would not send peacekeepers to the Serbian province.

Former nationalist lawmaker Dmitry Rogozin also suggested ex-Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine have no hope of joining NATO soon and called for further revision of a European arms treaty that is a sharp bone of contention between Russia and the Western alliance.

At his first news conference since his appointment, Rogozin said the terms for Kosovo's independence offered to Serbia were "shameful and defective," and compared them to Treaty of Versailles restrictions imposed on Germany after its defeat in World War I.

The independence dispute has sparked speculation that Russia could send peacekeeping troops to Kosovo in a show of force. But Rogozin said, "I see no possibility of the return of our peacekeeping contingent to Kosovo. It's not necessary to do this."

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership is likely to declare independence within weeks, a move Russia says cannot be accepted without the consent of Serbia, Russia's traditional ally. Putin said last week that Western acknowledgment would be "illegal and immoral."

"It's not the Serbs we are protecting, it's the rules of decent behavior and the architecture of international relations," Rogozin said. He likened recognition of Kosovo's independence to opening a "Pandora's box" that would trigger separatist movements in Europe.

Under an agreement with the United States, Russia sent peacekeepers to Kosovo in 1999 after the NATO bombing campaign that forced the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army from the separatist region. Russia pulled its peacekeepers out in 2003.

Putin appointed Rogozin, an outspoken nationalist who until recently was a prominent lawmaker and political party leader, at a time of severely strained ties between Russia and NATO, which has made Moscow nervous by expanding into the former Warsaw Pact and the ex-Soviet Baltic nations.

Rogozin called the NATO aspirations of pro-Western governments in Georgia and Ukraine "ritual and politicized dances," saying that the ex-Soviet nations are too economically and politically weak to be accepted into the alliance.

Russia-NATO ties have been further frayed by U.S. plans to deploy missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. Russian officials have dismissed U.S. arguments that the installations are meant to counter a potential threat from Iran, saying they believe the intent is to weaken Russia.

Another cause of tension between Russia and NATO is the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which limits the deployment of tanks, aircraft and other heavy weapons across the continent. Moscow suspended its participation in the pact last month, demanding NATO nations ratify a 1999 revision it says is fairer to Russia.

Russian officials have said they want further changes in the pact, but have offered few specifics. Rogozin said the treaty should include a "naval component" that would reflect a gap between Russian and NATO naval might.

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