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    RUSSIA'S DEFENCE MINISTER QUESTIONS REALITY OF STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP WITH NATO

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    WASHINGTON, April 7, 2004. (RIA Novosti) - Should NATO's infrastructure be set up in the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), any military-political steps by Russia will be in self-defence, Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said at the Centre for Defence Information in Washington at a meeting with reporters.

    "NATO should realise that now it is responsible for the future of Europe, for with the Baltic states included in NATO and in the event of a military infrastructure created on their territory, any military-political actions by Russia will conform to the principles of self-defence," Ivanov said.

    "We entertain no illusions why the Baltic countries have been admitted to NATO and why NATO planes are already being deployed there. This has nothing to do with the fight against terrorism. Of course, there is still a 'window of opportunities' for developing the Russia-NATO partnership, it is important that this 'window' does not shrink to a breathing hole," said Ivanov.

    "Today it depends on NATO and above all on the US for this 'window' not to be closed," Ivanov said.

    According to him, if the alliance needs a partnership with Russia, it cannot be built on the basis of ignoring Russia's positions, it is necessary to make mutually acceptable concessions.

    "Thus, we consented to concluding with Germany an agreement on the transit of its military stores and personnel to Afghanistan. A similar agreement with France is in the final stages," Ivanov added "Germany and France are NATO members, but with Lithuania, which became the alliance's member on April 2, a similar agreement on military transit to Kaliningrad (a Russian exclave on the Baltic from mainland Russia by Lithuania's territory) has not been concluded for several years, although in this case at issue is transit to our own territory," the minister noted.

    "It is cooperation with Russia that enabled NATO to feel more comfortable over the past four to five years," stated the head of the Russian defence department.

    According to him, Brussels and Washington should weigh all pros and cons and tell Russia in a clear and straightforward way if the strategic partnership continues or we are returning to a cold peace.

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