On Monday, “Novaya Gazeta” informed its readers: “The expansion of NATO, of which the Bolsheviks spoke so angrily and for so long, has now taken place. The procedure took only a few minutes.”

At the Prague summit, NATO Secretary General George Robertson read out the list of nations invited to become members. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, and Slovakia are likely to become NATO members in May 2004.

Why are they seeking to do so? “Novaya Gazeta” explains: “Deep down, they still don’t believe that the Prague summer of 1968 will never be repeated” – so they are rushing to “put the NATO fence between themselves and their eastern neighbor”.

And even though NATO membership may well entail missions to hostile Afghanistan for the Lithuanian or Estonian military, the newcomers are happy right now. As the “Novye Izvestia” paper puts it, they are convinced that from now on “the Russian bear will never get them”.

Having anticipated this rejoicing among the neophytes over liberation from old fears, Secretary General Robertson included some soothing statements in his Brussels news conference, especially for Russia. He emphasized that “NATO’s decision to expand will not have any kind of negative impact on Russia’s security levels” (quoted in “Kommersant”). On the contrary, Robertson said, “NATO membership for these new countries will create an even larger zone of stability in the center of continental Europe”. In his view, this “ought to be good news for Moscow”.

Robertson said that NATO has become “a unique forum” for discussion of immediate problems and consultation between members of the alliance. Robertson noted that it has the advantage of “bringing together both large and small nations which have a common system of values and are prepared to support and defend each other in difficult times”. In Robertson’s view, Moscow can hardly object to the establishment of “a zone of partnership for peace from Vancouver to Vladivostok”.

The “Vremya Novostei” paper has asked some authoritative Russian experts: “Does NATO expansion pose a threat to Russia?” It would be hard to describe the overall tone of the replies as benevolent.

Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, former head of the Defense Ministry’s main directorate for international military cooperation, now vice-president of the Geopolitical Sciences Academy, replied with military precision: “NATO is potentially dangerous – as a bloc acting outside international law and approaching Russia’s borders.”

Actually, Ivashov went on, the nations of Europe do not pose a threat to Russia (“except for Britain, with its nuclear weapons”). However, behind the NATO bloc “stands the military might of the United States, and the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes”. It should not be forgotten that the Americans are reserving the right to decide on a “victim state” and use “all resources, up to and including nuclear weapons” against it”.

Ivashov was even more direct in an interview with “Kommersant”: “After what NATO did in Yugoslavia, it became clear that NATO is an instrument for destroying the system of international law. In that sense, NATO poses a threat to the European community itself.”

Ivashov also stressed that the major threat these days is terrorism. “But NATO is not the kind of structure which is capable of fighting it: terrorism is a well-developed underground network, while NATO is a powerful war machine with missiles and aviation.”

Under these circumstances, it does seem somewhat premature to speak of an extensive “security zone”. “Novaya Gazeta” points out that “contemporary warfare is more like the Moscow theater hostage-taking than like the Battle of Stalingrad.”

Sergei Karaganov, head of the presidium of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council, was no less categorical than Ivashov in his interview with “Vremya Novostei”, though he spoke in a somewhat different key. In his view, “the only threat to Russia in NATO expansion is that Russia will not be part of it”. Karaganov also thinks that NATO will grow weaker: its old functions have been fulfilled, and its structure is becoming more complex. It remains unclear whether NATO will be able to modernize itself in the name of security.

In any case, Karaganov says Russia “must cooperate with NATO, since there is no one else to cooperate with. Otherwise, everything will be reduced to bilateral relations with the United States.” But Russia ought to retain “a small nuclear arsenal”, says Karaganov – “just in case”. He adds: “This is a civilizing factor, one which will not permit anyone – not only NATO – to put pressure on us.”

Army General Andrei Nikolaev, chairman of the Duma defense committee, isn’t overjoyed either about the creation of the proverbial “zone of common values” (as George Roberston put it in an interview with “Vek”) in central Europe. Nikolaev notes that last century, “creeping militarism” under the cover of slogans about security led to two world wars. And now, according to Nikolaev, there is the risk that the expanded bloc, in order to prove that it is indispensable, could start “earnestly seeking work for itself, such as military aggression against Yugoslavia”.

Nikolaev concludes sadly that Russia must accept NATO expansion as a grim reality – “as a lost opportunity to create a strip of neutral states in place of former members of the Warsaw Pact”.

“Nezavisimaya Gazeta” is forthright on the topic: “Russia, which has opposed NATO expansion at all levels, has clearly lost. And this time it is a politically sensitive defeat, since NATO is now moving into former Soviet republics.”

“Nezavisimaya Gazeta” notes acidly that Russia’s stoic acceptance of a fait accompli is entirely reasonable, of course: “What’s the point of heated polemics – when the train has left the station, and the course of events cannot be changed, however much effort is made.” However, according to “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, neither does it make sense to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

“Nezavisimaya Gazeta” quotes President Putin’s words, from his discussion of the consequences of NATO expansion with Robertson in Brussels. Putin said: “We consider that such developments will not undermine the existing system of military security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region, nor infringe on Russia’s interests.”

“Nezavisimaya Gazeta” considers it appropriate to remind the president and society that when West Germany and East Germany were re-unified, President George H. W. Bush and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl gave a firm promise not to move NATO eastward. And they easily broke that promise. “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” notes: “Neither are there any firm commitments from NATO at present about respecting the security and interests of Russia.”

Of course, Russia has no grounds for being seriously concerned about its security at the moment. However, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” says that a pessimistic scenario for future developments cannot be ruled out absolutely; especially since Robertson himself has no doubts that expansion “will strengthen NATO, in any case”, since this isn’t only about NATO’s military capacities, but also about its growing political influence.” “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” says: “These expanded resources, as a whole, may well be used to put pressure on uncooperative nations. So the security situation isn’t quite that straightforward.” Not to mention the fact that to all appearances the Prague summit will not mark the final stage of NATO expansion. There are reports that NATO’s doors “are open to all who wish to join – except for Russia, even if it should wish to do so”.

There is some discussion in Western media of the possibility that Austria, Sweden, and Finland may join NATO. President Eduard Shevardnadze has announced his intention to “drag Georgia through the doors of NATO”. There are reports that “if certain people come to power in Kiev and Minsk, those countries may also turn in the direction of NATO”. And then, as “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” predicts, there could be NATO troops very close to Smolensk, Kursk, Rostov, and Vladikavkaz.

“Nezavisimaya Gazeta” stresses that this must not be permitted under any circumstances; there has to be a limit to acquiescence. And on the subject of that limit, “it wouldn’t hurt for the Kremlin to calmly but firmly issue an open warning, once and for all, to our partners in NATO and the CIS”.

“Kommersant” quotes the reply of Czech President Vaclav Havel – president of the summit’s host nation – to a question from Western journalists: “Under a president such as Putin, might Russia finally be capable of understanding that NATO is no longer its enemy?”

Havel considers that Putin is not to blame for anti-Western attitudes among Russian citizens: “The Cold War and the Communist regime, which promoted anti-Western attitudes among Russians, are to blame for the fact that there is still a certain amount of prejudice. Russian society retains a fear of Western organizations, such as NATO, for example.” Havel stresses that a head of state cannot fail to take such attitudes into account.

Moreover, says Havel, this is almost a matter of Russian national traditions: “Such ambivalence toward the West – fear combined with awe, sometimes with slavish obeisance – has far deeper historical roots than communism in Russia. For several centuries, this attitude has determined a historical conflict characteristic of the Russian mentality.”

Havel’s views are remarkably close to some thoughts expressed by Alexander Tsipko, a well-known patriotic Russian journalist.

In the “Rossiia” newspaper, Tsipko writes: “For a long time to come, Russians will be paying for the global ambitions of the Bolshevik state to line up all the peoples of the world in the same Marxist-Leninist formation. The peoples of Eastern Europe really did loathe our precious socialism… We are partially to blame for NATO’s rapid eastward expansion.”

At the same time, says Tsipko, under no circumstances should Russia give up its status as a nuclear superpower: “Without nuclear weapons, Russia simply couldn’t survive in the contemporary world – it would fall apart.”

But as long as Russia retains its nuclear status, fears from the Cold War era will remain alive in the West. Russia will be successively surrounded by NATO “security zones” and squeezed out of post-Soviet territory: “We should have no illusions in this regard.”

Tsipko says Russia shouldn’t expect any significant changes, trust, or understanding: “It’s most unlikely that the Americans would ever view us as the same kind of ally as Britain is for them.”

Russia will never become the West: “America and Europe will always see us as ‘the other’, a separate world.”

Meanwhile the “Gazeta” newspaper published an interesting review of NATO officers’ statements concerning the possible alliance with Russia. The opinions of military professionals are suddenly cheerful compared to lamentations of politicians and the press.

According to Major Henry Walles, British marine, “the further fate of civilization is to be decided on the battlefield. That is why Russia and NATO need each other. We all are in the same trench.”

Major Walles has an unusual opinion of the Russian army, “It has the best soldiers in Europe and the worst commanders in Europe. The Russian army is like a newly-wed girl: much ardor and little use.”

Nonetheless, the mayor does not doubt that the issues of commandment and equipment are possible to resolve, if the set objective is opposing the world terrorism, “Each soldier will be useful, especially, if it is a Russian soldier.” Field sergeant Yvette May, Canada, thinks that Russia will gain a powerful ally in the form of NATO, “As far as I know, now Russia has neither friends nor enemies. All its former vassals are joining NATO, while separatists are destroying your state. Even such a huge country cannot stay alone in the modern world.” Field sergeant May has no doubts that the united Russia and NATO will be able to sort out the Chechen problem.

US Navy Commander Simon North is even more enthusiastic, according to him at present it is the right time for Russia to stand shoulder by shoulder with NATO and “tweak the ears of all opponents of freedom from the Caucasus to Tripoli.”

However, North noted, in order to do this, Russians will need “American equipment, liaison, transportation, ammunition, and even food” like back in 1941. besides, according to the commander, the US Navy cannot cooperate with the Russian Navy, “Currently, Russia does not have a Navy. The Soviet Union had one. If the fleet has remained in port for over ten years, without training, and officers are not trained in campaigns, it loses skills very quickly. You have several good vessels, but I repeat, you do not have a fleet.”

Thus, North concluded, it is primarily Russia that needs an alliance with NATO.

German tanker Chief-Lieutenant Horst Grauerherst strongly objects to those who consider the NATO expansion to the east as aggression, “It touches upon the strings of the historical memory. The world has changed, Europe has changed, and Germany has become different.”

Overall, Grauerherst thinks it is not only dangerous to make comparisons with World War II, but also counter-productive, “In order to lose its fears, Russia should join NATO to the joy of democratic countries and to fear terrorists.”

Polish commando Major Andjey Shimansky thinks otherwise. Answering the question “Are you prepared to cooperate with the Russian military, hypothetically?” Shimansky said, “Sooner no than yes. Here in Poland we are still plagued by bad memories of the Economic Cooperation Council, the Warsaw Pact, and other Soviet initiatives. Many polish officers are still convinced that the Russian political and military leadership are rather enemies to democracy that its friends.”

Major Shimansky was equally cautious while assessing possibilities for sorting out the Chechnya problem – he noted that he does not have enough information about this and does not trust the “Russian terms”. Shimansky explained that Russians call Chechens bandits, “However, in 1945 the Soviet Union declared the patriots of the Polish Army to be bandits.” At the same time, Shimansky does not rule out that Russians and Poles should “become closer to each other in order to build new relations.”

Meanwhile, President Bush has repeatedly spoken about cooperation with Russia lately. For instance, in his interview with the NTV television network he said that the war against terrorism is a “different war”: in the past, armies used tanks, ships, and planes in warfare. But terrorists are hiding in caves and sending other people on suicide missions. “That is why such a war demands different responses.” First of all, Bush stressed, it demands an exchange of information.

“That is what we and Russia are doing. At present, we are exchanging information better than ever. It is for the sake of our peoples. I repeatedly say to Americans that Russia is our friend, and we are both seeking those who are hiding in dark corners in order to bring them to trial.”

This position of President Bush has greatly pleased his Russian colleague. The “Vremya Novostei” newspaper reported that after the St. Petersburg summit Vladimir Putin noted in these terms, “I like the approach of President Bush. It is what it should be.”

Chechnya’s “terrorist No. 1” Shamil Basayev has his own opinion on the Russia-US anti-terrorist alliance. The Die Welt newspaper published his address to NATO, which contains not only demands that Russian forces should be withdrawn from Chechnya and a compensation for the damages should be paid, and threats to Russia, but also a warning to those who are supporting Russia in the Chechen conflict.

However, “Vremya Novostei” cited Basaev (“We warn that all military, economic, and strategic facilities in Russia are our legal military targets.”) and suggested that his threats may greatly contribute to the strengthening of the Russia-West cooperation. The paper says, “Even the words of his address entirely coincide with the latest addresses of Osama bin Laden, who threatened the United States with new terrorist acts for their support of Israeli and preparation for the war against Iraq.”

At the same time, there are different viewpoints. From the standpoint of the “Novye Izvestia” newspaper, “it is possible to interpret Basaev’s threat as an exacerbation of the situation around Chechnya and an increased threat for the whole Europe.”

“Novye Izvesita” stresses that it should not be forgotten that the West does not consider Chechen illegal formations as a terrorist organization worth fighting against, “Judicially, we do not have a common enemy.”

According to the paper, the possibility of a combined Russia-West fight against terrorism should be considered from this point of view, “It is a very risky self-deception.”

“Nezavisimaya Gazeta” says Basaev’s latest demarche is a good reason for the West to consider the danger of double standards during an anti-terrorist war.

However, “Expert” magazine considers that the problem of terrorism and anti-terrorism has already split the Western world, “The resolve of Russia and the US to fight against terrorism frightens Europe even more than the terrorism itself.”

Undoubtedly, Basaev’s ultimatum is unlikely to change the West’s attitude towards Russia’s actions in Chechnya. Osama bin Laden recently said on Al Jazira television: “All these operations – against Germans in Tunisia, the French in Karachi, Australians and Britons in Bali, the French tanker in Yemen, American marines in Kuwait, and the recent hostage-taking in Moscow – have been the response of Muslims who are defending their faith.”

On the other hand, the “Vremya MN” newspaper says, even in Russia many people misunderstand the difference between terrorists and separatists. According to the paper, this is the reason for the difference in the approach towards the Chechen issue of the Russian authorities and the Russian media.

Even after the hostage-taking, journalists are still considering BAsaev to be a separatist “who is acting somewhere else, very far away.” They think as soon as the Chechnya problem is sorted out, “they will leave us alone”.

At the same time, says “Vremya MN”, the authorities are trying to convince the media that Basaev and his guerrillas are terrorists who are not interested in the “future of Chechnya” – which is rather about their “Arab masters”.

Moreover, “Chechnya for them is just a front among many other battlefronts in the war against the Western, Christian world”. The real aim of the fight against Russia is “nothing other than the destruction of Russia as a state.” However, most Russian journalists have not picked up on these ideas from the Kremlin.

This is one of the many reasons that makes any confrontation between the present Russian authorities and the West concerning NATO expansion impossible.

Apparently, the Kremlin is demonstrating its discontent about the issue, as usual, but does not rule out that all this is for the best.

On the other hand, it is impossible not to object: no one is willing to annoy the left wing, the patriots, and the military a year before the election.