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    Putin chooses nationalist as Russian ambassador to NATO
    The Associated Press
    Published: January 10, 2008
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    MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Thursday named a prominent nationalist politician as Russia's ambassador to NATO at a time of severely strained ties between Moscow and the Western alliance.

    The appointment of outspoken nationalist Dmitry Rogozin is the latest reflection of Putin's assertive stance toward the West, which he accuses of meddling in Russia's affairs and says must treat Moscow as an equal.

    But while it may place a stronger spotlight on Russia's wrangling with NATO, it did not appear to signal a shift in Russian policy toward its former Cold War foe.

    Rogozin, a former member of parliament who headed a nationalist party, replaces Gen. Konstantin Totsky.

    Putin, who has courted support at home and around the globe by lashing out publicly at the West, "wanted to emphasize Russia's negative attitude toward what NATO is doing," said Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine. "But I don't think it will have a significant effect on relations between Russia and NATO."
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    Rogozin, whose appointment was long in the works, said earlier this month that Russia's relations with NATO were "at their lowest point" following a series of disputes last year. He stressed opposition to U.S. plans to deploy missile defense facilities in former Warsaw Pact countries, Kosovo's moves toward declaring independence from Russian ally Serbia, and further NATO expansion eastward.

    Speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio, Rogozin said the job would be "an extremely important mission - to maintain normal, constructive relations with such a difficult partner."

    NATO has angered Moscow by expanding into former Warsaw Pact nations and the ex-Soviet Baltic republics - moves many Russians see as unfriendly and potentially threatening. Ties have been further frayed by the U.S. missile defense plans and a dispute over the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. Moscow suspended participation in the pact last month, demanding NATO members ratify an updated version its says addresses rules that are unfair to Russia.

    Rogozin told Ekho Moskvy that while he does not consider NATO a hostile organization, Russians who do have good grounds for their position. He cited the alliance's 1999 bombing campaign in Yugoslavia.

    Amid increasing concerns in recent years over a rise in hate-motivated attacks on minorities, Rogozin has championed the rights of ethnic Russians - both in Russia and abroad - and organized nationalist demonstrations.

    In 2005, the political party he led at the time, Rodina (Homeland), was barred from Moscow legislative elections after running a campaign advertisement that was seen as racist.

    With the Kremlin stepping up its public criticism of neo-Nazi groups, however, Rogozin has avoided direct association with extreme nationalists. He has also built up experience in foreign affairs, serving for a time as chairman of the parliamentary international affairs committee in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, and as Putin's envoy for talks with the European Union on issues relating to Russia's Kaliningrad region.

    Lukyanov stressed that Rogozin will implement policy, not set it, and will likely tone down his rhetoric as a diplomat. "I don't think he will conduct himself as he would at a rally in Moscow," he said.

    Diplomats at NATO headquarters in Brussels have expressed wariness over Rogozin's nationalist background, but point out he has foreign policy experience. Some say the appointment of a high-profile figure suggests something of an upgrade in relations.

    "NATO is looking forward to working with him," said alliance spokesman James Appathurai.
     

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