While the United States struggles to bring to justice the global terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 atrocities, Moscow is using the West’s increased need for security to change the face of Europe and the nature of its most successful alliance, NATO.

“Europe has greatly changed,” following the Sept. 11 attacks, according to Moscow, because “there is more mutual understanding and a growing cooperation against the backdrop of what happened in the United States.”

New security concerns across the continent have led Moscow to declare that “security is indivisible in an undivided Europe,” according to official Russian sources.

Moscow is also seeking “opportunities to take part in actual decision-making” within NATO, the alliance which has successfully preserved Western European independence since its founding in 1949. Moscow bases its aspirations to take part in “decision-making” within the alliance upon the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act.

The remarks were broadcast by the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government.

During his attendance at the 8th annual European Union-Russian Summit in Brussels, Belgium, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that “step by step the partnership between Russia and the EU is gaining momentum,” according to a British Broadcasting Corporation shortwave broadcast.

Putin also declared his willingness to take “an entirely new look at the expansion of NATO,” if the alliance develops into a “political organization,” and Moscow is “involved in that process,” the BBC reported.

Ironically, when asked if Russia would be willing to join the alliance, the BBC related that Putin “chose not to reply.”

The irony lies in Putin’s earlier statement made in March 2000 – while still serving as “acting president” – that he believed Russia could eventually join NATO. Putin’s suggestion was generally ridiculed by many experts at the time, and the Polish Foreign Minister observed that if Russia joined NATO there would be no reason for the alliance to exist.

Despite earlier skepticism, Russian membership in NATO is no longer a laughing matter.

While NATO should decline in military importance in Putin’s estimation, the outline of a united Europe – with Russia playing a vital role – appears on the horizon.

According to a report from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Putin addressed the German Parliament on Sept. 25 – in German – and advocated Europe becoming “a powerful and genuinely independent center of world affairs.” Putin urged the European Union to join with the Russian Federation, with its “human and natural resources” and its “defense potential,” to form an even greater center of world influence.

Putin denied, however, seeking to undermine the “high value” of U.S./European relations.

Russian/EU ties are already strong. The EU at present accounts for 60 percent of investment in Russia – many times more than that of the U.S. The EU accounts for approximately one-third of Russian trade, and Russia is becoming a major oil and gas supplier to the EU nations.

Moscow is also advocating greater research and technical ties, as well as cooperation in space exploration.

EU and Russia military bonds are also growing tighter. Putin is suggesting monthly meetings between EU and Russian military personnel, and Russia and Germany have agreed to joint maneuvers sometime in 2002.

While Russia’s ties with the democratic nations of Western Europe grow stronger, Moscow still demonstrates a number of profoundly undemocratic tendencies.

The Union of Russia and Belarus continues to develop, despite Belarus’ remaining a communist state under the iron rule of Alexander Lukashenko, whom some have suspected, among other activities, of political murder. His recent re-election was widely condemned as rigged.

Lukashenko is president of the Union of Russia and Belarus.

Moscow itself has been condemned by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights for its conduct of the war in Chechnya, but dismissed the international censure as “unacceptable.” The Russian government is also “re-establishing control over all … Russia’s broadcasting and relay stations for television and radio signals,” according to a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report.

Observers have noted an increasing atmosphere of repression within the Russian Federation.

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