Less than two years ago Western politicians were eager to give Russia a voice in NATO affairs and quick to deny any adversarial relationship between NATO and Russia. No iron curtain, no division of Europe, no spheres of influence–just partnerships for peace. But on Russia’s border, there is a clear sense of choosing sides.

Over the past month Azerbaijan has appealed to NATO for support, with the minister of defense inviting Western forces to establish military bases in Azerbaijan. Last week Georgia’s parliamentary committee for defense and national security appealed to NATO to “protect Georgia’s security and independence.” Ukraine’s President Leonid Kuchma met last week with Poland’s prime minister to outline ambitious plans to deepen economic ties, on the eve of Poland’s accession to NATO and prospective membership in the European Union.

On the other side, Belarusan dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka told an Iranian interviewer that Belarus, Russia, Iran, India and China should form an anti-NATO bloc to restore the “multipolar world” that disappeared with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. NATO’s efforts in the Caucasus, he explained, are aimed at separating Iran from Russia and preventing Iran from achieving its destiny as “a superpower … of the next century.” Lukashenka called on Russia, Iran, and “other regional states which border on Azerbaijan to adopt a really tough position” to keep NATO out of the area. Lukashenka, who calls Yevgeny Primakov his “intellectual soulmate” (yedinomyshlennik), is in fact in the mainstream of Russian thinking with these remarks. Foreign policy experts at think-tanks like the Slavic and Balkan Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as officials like CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky, say much the same thing.