NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson proposes to abandon the “arrogant position” of denying Russia equality in the organization’s decision process, as the alliance continues to develop closer relations with Russia.

Moscow is demanding an “equal right in making decisions on topical issues,” and refers to NATO’s current “arrogant position that Russia cannot influence the process of making decisions of NATO,” according to official Russian sources.

At present, the alliance consults Russia only after a decision is reached among its 19 members. Moscow complains that in the arrangement “Russia’s recommendations are often ignored,” and is now seeking direct access to NATO’s deliberations.

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

While the Russian government says its participation in NATO decision-making will be an “effective instrument in cooperation,” Russia remains firmly opposed to the alliance’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

“If the proposal of NATO on a new relationship with Russia envisages Russia’s consent of NATO’s eastward enlargement – this is a political mistake,” the official broadcast resolutely proclaimed.

Further NATO enlargement, according to the official statement, would be “harmful for the unity of Europe, and the cohesion of all countries in the interest of security in Europe.”

NATO’s ever-closer relationship with Moscow is also manifested in the alliance operating an information bureau in Moscow, and the expected presence of a NATO liaison mission in the Russian capital, which is to begin functioning “in the near future,” according to the Voice of Russia.

What Moscow describes as a proposal for a “new relationship” between NATO and Russia – “equality” in discussions with the other 19 NATO members – originated with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Observers note that the nations of Eastern Europe – especially the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia — are looking to NATO for protection against any possible future expansion of the Russian Federation, noting Moscow’s history of aggression in both Tsarist and Communist periods.

Moscow’s “new relationship” with NATO follows the events of Sept. 11. At the request of the United States – NATO’s leading partner – Moscow lent its cooperation to a number of measures to counter terrorist activities, including the U.S. assault on Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Washington and Moscow have found a common enemy in the Taliban government, which had launched serious attacks against the U.S., Russia and post-Soviet republics allied with Russia. Blair seeks to widen cooperation with Moscow to include the NATO alliance in general.

Before Sept. 11, however, relations had been seriously strained between Russia and NATO. Moscow denounced NATO’s 1999 air war against Yugoslavia as a war crime, charged that NATO was allowing terrorism to flourish in Kosovo, and vehemently resisted NATO expansion to the east.

Moscow continues to follow a policy of strengthening relations – including military ties – with nations the U.S. has suspected of supporting and/or engaging terrorism, including Libya, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Iraq.

In April 2001, Moscow described Iraq – possibly the next target on America’s list of terrorist supporters – as its “long-time partner,” and stated its interest “in establishing a high level of cooperation with Baghdad.”

Moscow recently sought to develop an alliance to counter NATO, especially if the alliance continues to expand its membership eastwards to include former members of the now-defunct Soviet bloc of nations.

In January 2001, the BBC reported that then-Russian Defense Minister Field Marshall Igor Sergeyev traveled to Iran, and discussed, among other issues, “the creation of a strategic axis between Moscow, Tehran and New Delhi” – seen by observers as a possible anti-NATO coalition.

Moscow has also formed a Union State with Belarus, led by the unabashedly pro-Stalinist Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko has committed his nation’s military to the defense of Russia’s western border, and calls for the reestablishment of the Soviet Union.

Lukashenko serves as the chief executive of the Russia/Belarus Union State.

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