( RIA Novosti ) - Russia is seriously concerned about future NATO expansion, particularly over its plans to admit several ex-Soviet republics as its new members, a parliament speaker said Monday.
Tensions between Russia and NATO have been strained over the alliance's expansion into Moscow's former sphere of influence, and Washington's plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Central Europe. The Kremlin is also unhappy about NATO's reluctance to ratify the re-drafted Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) on arms reduction.
"Frankly speaking, Russia is seriously concerned about the admittance of new members into the alliance, especially CIS countries," Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament said at a conference on the future of the Russia-NATO Council in St. Petersburg.
"We are convinced that NATO's geographic expansion has no serious justification and has nothing to do with the alliance's reform or new tasks on strengthening European security," he said.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer earlier gave reassurances on the alliance's enlargement plans, saying: "There is no automaticity to the process of NATO enlargement, and NATO is not actively recruiting new members - rather, we have used the interest of our neighbors in joining NATO in order to promote democratic and security sector reform efforts, and held aspirant states to the very highest standards."
The NATO chief signaled his backing for the bids by Russia's former Soviet allies, Georgia and Ukraine, to join the alliance, saying Moscow would benefit.
"A Georgian state that succeeded in achieving NATO standards would be a better neighbor for Russia. This would also be the case of Ukraine, which has worked very closely with the alliance over the past decade in furthering domestic reform efforts, which will benefit the country regardless of whether Kiev ultimately seeks to follow through on seeking NATO membership," he said.
Mironov said Monday the nature of NATO's expansion and the possible placement of the U.S. missile shield in Central Europe would determine future cooperation between Moscow and Brussels, including in the sphere of the theater missile defense (TMD) in Europe.
"If this [the U.S. missile shield] scenario becomes a reality, Russia's cooperation with the alliance on TMD will be under question," the Federation Council's speaker said.
He also said Russia and NATO had reached a deadlock in the situation around control over conventional armaments in Europe, which earlier prompted Moscow to contemplate a moratorium on the CFE Treaty.
The original CFE treaty, signed in 1990 to reduce conventional military forces on the continent and amended in 1999 in Istanbul in line with post-Cold War realities, has so far only been ratified by Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine.
Moldova and Georgia have refused to ratify the CFE until Russia withdraws its troops from their territory. Russia maintains a peacekeeping contingent in Georgia and a battalion guarding ex-Soviet ammunition depots in the self-proclaimed republic of Transdnestr in Moldova.
NATO countries have insisted on Russia's withdrawal from Transdnestr and other post-Soviet regions as a condition for their ratifying the CFE treaty.
At the same time, Mironov said Russia had no intention of dramatizing controversial issues in its relations with NATO and voiced Moscow's desire to help the alliance's efforts to establish peace and order in Afghanistan.
"We believe it is necessary to increase efforts in Afghanistan...and we are ready to help the alliance to find a political solution for a complicated situation in the country," Mironov said.