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    YASTRZHEMBSKY: RUSSIA'S COURSE TOWARD COOPERATION WITH NATO WILL REMAIN UNCHANGED

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    BRUSSELS, February 28, 2004. /RIA Novosti correspondent Alexander Ignatov/. -Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhemsky is certain that Russia's strategic course toward cooperation with NATO will remain unchanged. He made this statement on Friday when speaking to journalists in Brussels where he spoke at the NATO Headquarters located in a Belgian capital city's suburb.

    According to Yastrzhembsky, the main purpose of his visit to France and Belgium is to "bring true information about Russia to the key countries, let them aware of Moscow's new ideas, particularly with regard to the current increase of negative materials on Russia-related issues in Western media".

    Responding to journalists' questions, Yastrzhembsky spoke in favour of joint development of theatre ballistic missile defense system. He also supported the initiative of servicing the Soviet era armaments currently operated by the new NATO member countries, as well as pooling efforts in the war on terror, and contributing to the Afghan settlement.

    President Putin's aide said that Russia is interested in withdrawing its arsenals from Moldova, providing security of the local population is duly guaranteed and safeguarded. As far as withdrawal of our military bases from Georgia is concerned, it is a bilateral problem and we are ready to take efforts in resolving it as Moscow understands the position of Tbilisi to whom presence of foreign troops on Georgian territory is highly undesirable. However, to avoid repetition of earlier mistakes made during Gorbachev's presidency, it is necessary to prepare an appropriate infrastructure. We need time and resources for it. Russia proposes to complete the required preparations for 11 years. Georgia believes that 3 years is enough. There is room for compromise there".

    Answering the question about Russia's attitude toward enhanced NATO presence in the Baltic countries (former USSR republics), the presidential aide spoke against NATO's eastward expansion, all the more so that NATO and the USA had given appropriate pledges to Gorbachev, even if not in the writing.

    NATO's presence in the Baltics, in contrast to the bases the alliance plans to set up in Bulgaria and Romania, is not required for combating the international terrorism, Yastrzhembsky pointed out. Moreover, it undermines the national consensus currently existing in Russia in relation to NATO and jeopardizes the developing Russia-NATO cooperation, the Russian President's aide said.

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