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NATO: Who will replace Scheffer?

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin)

NATO has started official preparations for its April summit, which will mark the Alliance's 60th anniversary; the North Atlantic Treaty, which brought NATO into existence, was signed in Washington, D.C. 60 years ago.

Ambassadors of the 26 NATO member-states gathered in Brussels to launch preparations for the celebration. The summit will be hosted in turn by Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany on April 3 and 4. It is expected that France will resume its participation in the Alliance's military organization after a 40-year break; NATO will adopt a new strategic conception; it will decide which countries will have their troops in Afghanistan and how numerous those contingents will be; finally, U.S. President Barack Obama will for the first time attend the summit of the organization that the U.S. de facto controls.

Neither Ukraine nor Georgia is expected to receive "entrance tickets" to the alliance - membership action plans - at either the April or the December summit. Recent developments showed that neither of them is ready to join NATO, as both Tbilisi and Kiev are unpredictable: the former can unleash hostilities at any moment, and the latter is an unreliable partner in gas deals.

On the same day, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer held an informal meeting with Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin. In the lobby, NATO ambassadors admitted that the Alliance's need for Russia has become more acute now that the U.S. plans to focus its counter-terrorist efforts on Afghanistan. It should be noted that despite a popular assumption, cooperation on Afghanistan between NATO and Russia was never interrupted - Russia provides a transit corridor for France, Germany, and Canada's non-military cargoes. Last week Washington negotiated the same thing for itself, too. Russia allows NATO to use its air route for foodstuffs and medicine supplies only, not for ammunition or military equipment transportation.

Secretary General Scheffer addressed NATO ambassadors with a speech in which he outlined his vision for NATO's future. In truth, the ambassadors of the 26 member-states seemed to pay little attention to the Dutchman's words. They were preoccupied with a different question: Whom to replace Mr Scheffer with? His term of office expires in late summer, and European governments are trying to work out a new candidacy.

A few politicians have already topped forecasts. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced that he would officially propose that Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, 45, be nominated for NATO Secretary General. A pro-American and pro-European politician, Mr Sikorski is supported by all new east-European NATO members. Danish Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen is also among possible contenders for NATO Secretary General. His candidacy suits everyone, but he seems unwilling to assume this post and is instead looking to become the first President of the new European Union. Canada's former Defense Minister Peter MacKay and Foreign Minister John Manley are also named as possible challengers, but electing either of them would be violation of tradition - since its foundation, NATO has been headed only by Europeans.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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