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Europe

Incoming Russian Leader Criticizes NATO Expansion

Russia's incoming president Medvedev is "not happy" about possible NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, according to comments published Tuesday, March 25. He also said he was open to a thaw with Britain.

A Soviet tank at a war memorial in Berlin

Russia says new NATO members at its border might endanger European security

In a wide-ranging interview with Britain's Financial Times, Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow did not approve of ex-Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine becoming NATO members. He also said he wanted to improve relations with Britain and vowed to crack down on corruption and what he called Russia's "legal nihilism."

"We are not happy about the situation around Georgia and Ukraine," he told the business daily ahead of a NATO summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest next week. "No state can be pleased about having representatives of a military bloc to which it does not belong coming close to its borders."

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president-elect

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president-elect

Medvedev, a 42-year-old former law professor, won a landslide victory in an election earlier this month as expected, and will succeed his political mentor, outgoing President Vladimir Putin, in May. Putin, however, will stay in the government as Medvedev's prime minister.

At a NATO summit next week, which Putin will attend, Georgia and Ukraine are hoping to get approval from the Western military alliance for its membership action plan (MAP) that would be seen as a signal that its application bid is on track.

But the 26 NATO members are split on whether to accept the two countries. Germany and France oppose the membership bids, fearful of increasing tensions with Russia. However, many of NATO's eastern European members are pushing for membership as soon as possible, saying it would increase security and reinforce democracy in both nations.

US President George W. Bush is due to travel to Ukraine and Croatia on the eve of the Bucharest summit, according to the White House.

Russo-British thaw?

On relations with Britain, which are at a post-Cold War low after the murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006, Medvedev said, "We are open to the re-establishment of cooperation to the full extent."

Alexander Litvinenko

Alexander Litvinenko

London and Moscow have traded sharp words since the Litvinenko affair, expelled each others' diplomats and cut back on cooperation between their intelligence services. Moscow refused to hand over a suspect of the 2006 murder.

Medvedev repeated accusations that the British Council, a cultural body partly funded by the British foreign ministry, was engaged in spying in Russia, the Financial Times said. The council suspended work in two regional offices in January because of what it called harassment by the Russian authorities.

"We can restore the whole specter of full bilateral cooperation, of course, without preliminary conditions, understanding the independence of each others' positions," Medvedev said in the interview.

Rule of law

More generally Medvedev vowed to crack down on corruption. Upholding the rule of law was a huge challenge because of Russians' general attitude to the law, he said.

"It is a monumental task...Russia is a country where people don't like to observe the law," he said. "It is, as they say, a country of legal nihilism."

He touched upon a number of other issues, such as inflation, which he called "a fairly serious problem for the Russian economy." Inflation in year-on-year terms is running at nearly 13 percent. Medvedev added, however, that Russia would be able to ride out the turbulence on global markets.

Former Yukos oil company CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky seen behind bars at a courtroom

Former Yukos oil company CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky seen behind bars at a courtroom

Questioned about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former boss of oil group Yukos, he said it was for the courts to decide whether he should remain imprisoned.

"No one should interfere, neither a village elder nor the president of the country," he said.

Asked whether Putin was right when he said that Medvedev would be no easier for the West to deal with, he said: "Of course he is right" -- with a slightly forced smile, according to the Financial Times.

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