MOSCOW -- For nearly a decade, "partnership" was the buzzword for Russia's relations with NATO. Now that venture is all but dead and the Kremlin is drawing a thick line to show the Western alliance where it says its eastward expansion must stop.
The issue of further NATO enlargement, as well as Russian anger over the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, have been overshadowed recently by Russia's concern over U.S. plans to develop a national missile defense system.
But when NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson starts a two-day visit Monday, he will face a Russia that categorically rejects membership of former Soviet republics in the alliance as a matter of pride, principle -- and policy.
Robertson recently said the ice age in relations between NATO and Russia was over. But for Russia it seems the thaw has barely begun and the mere idea of the alliance including the three Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as proposed, has prompted a chilly response.
"There is a negative attitude toward further eastward expansion among the political establishment, the military and the population," said Yevgeny Kozhokin, director of Russia's Institute for Strategic Studies.
"Russia could not accept NATO membership for the Baltic nations under any circumstances. NATO does not sufficiently grasp this," Kozhokin said.
Many Russians believe a new wave of NATO expansion would push Russia further toward the periphery of Europe and force them to seek closer ties with China and India, countries the Russians consider marginalized.
Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov accused the United States of "ordering the music" for its NATO partners in order to isolate Russia.
While many former Soviet bloc nations see NATO as a guarantee of their political survival, for Russians NATO remains a potential threat to their sovereignty.
"Relations with NATO are worse than ever. Yugoslavia shattered the arguments that NATO is not an offensive alliance," said Sergei Karaganov, head of the influential Institute of Europe. "This attitude is prevalent."
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