Russia's NATO envoy stays firm against NATO expansion eastward

(dpa) - Russia's firebrand NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin on Monday warned of a diplomatic unravelling, if NATO were to admit Georgia and Ukraine at this week's summit.

NATO leaders are set to review offering the two post-Soviet states Membership Action Plan (MAP) status, a first step toward joining the alliance, at the summit in Bucharest on Wednesday to be attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"If MAPs is granted, I can imagine our president's reaction. ..," Rogozin began threateningly in an interview with the Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravada published on Monday.

"On the whole, I strongly doubt that in such a situation we will have anything further to talk about with other alliance members," he concluded.

Rogozin stressed that NATO's further expansion eastward would "destroy all the mechanism that have up to now, with such difficulty been built to normalize relations in the security sphere."

In the run up to the Bucharest summit, Russia's relations with NATO have been increasingly strained over Western recognition of Kosovo's independence and Russia's decision to pull out of a key Cold-War-era arms control treaty in December.

Moscow has threatened to retarget its missiles at Kiev and drafted resolutions to recognize Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, if either country moves toward NATO membership.

"The alliance, of course, can acquire a stump of Georgia without Abkhazia and South Ossetia and a completely politically defunct Ukraine, but in the process it will lose Russia for long-long years to come," Russia's vociferous NATO ambassador told the newspaper.

Rogozin accused Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili of embroiling NATO in his domestic political problems and warned of war with the United States, if Georgia continued along its current track.

"Saakashvili only wants to pull the alliance by the ear and use this military machine to resolve his territorial problems. But this is to announce war! How could we fail to react!," he was quoted as saying by the Russian daily.

"One provocation along Abkhazia and South Ossetian border would be enough for Russia and the United States to be admiring each other through the sights of their automatic weapons," he said.

In reference to rumours that Putin's successor, president-elect Dmitry Medvedev would bring a thaw in relations with the west, Rogozin said: "He looks weak. But he is a tough and stalwart leader.

"Believe me, Russia is leaving ideological dogma. The country will act uniquely in its own national interest," he said.

Since his appointment in January, Russia's flamboyant nationalist and motorcycle riding envoy has left a strange impression on diplomats in the EU.

But on a lighter note in Monday's interview, Rogozin said his passion for biking had "proved beneficial, including for the carrying out of my professional mission."

He said a "biker-band" had formed at NATO with other "fanatics," including NATO Assistant Secretary General Martin Erdman and Canada's ambassador to the alliance.

"When it gets warmer, we are planning to go with our wives on some picnic outside the city, where we can speak informally," Rogozin said.

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