A senior Russian officer yesterday launched a blistering attack on NATO’s plans for expansion. General Staff first deputy chief Col. General Vladimir Zhurbenko charged that enlargement would lead to a "new geopolitical partition of Europe and, in practical terms, the ouster of Russia to the periphery of European processes." According to Zhurbenko, enlargement could cause Europe’s first post-Cold War crisis, and the resulting "isolation" of Russia is likely to drive Moscow to seek new allies in the West and East. The entry of even one Central or Eastern European country into NATO, he continued, would violate force levels spelled out in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and undermine the Treaty’s legal basis. He called upon the West to stop looking at Russia as a potential enemy and to move, at last, toward transforming NATO into a peace-keeping force subordinate to the U.N. and the OSCE. (Interfax, July 17)
Little of what Zhurbenko had to say is new, but his reasons for speaking out so strongly at this time are unclear. His remarks could be a response to indications that NATO will indeed launch the enlargement process at the end of this year. And amid vague rumors that Moscow is considering an accommodation with the West on enlargement, Zhurbenko may be signaling the General Staff’s continued intransigence on the issue. His remarks also come on the eve of what many believe could be a major reshuffle of personnel in leading defense positions, a process that Security Council chief Aleksandr Lebed had suggested would follow the appointment of a new defense minister.
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