MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin criticized NATO's "mechanical expansion" eastward yesterday, but told the alliance's new chief that international security would be improved by a true partnership with Russia.
Putin set a cooperative tone in a Kremlin meeting with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who made his first visit to Russia as NATO secretary general less than two weeks after the alliance expanded into the former Soviet Union by adding Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia as well as four other countries once part of the Eastern Bloc.
Putin reiterated Russia's position that NATO's eastward march has not made the world safer, saying that "this expansion could not prevent the terrorist acts in Madrid, for example, or help us resolve the problems of the restoration of Afghanistan."
But in a departure from past dismissals of NATO as an outdated organization, he said, "We hope the expansion will foster the strengthening of trust in Europe and around the world and will be an instrument and component in strengthening international security."
"For this, of course, it is necessary to increase the level of trust between NATO and in this case Russia," Putin added. He called creation of the Russia-NATO council two years ago a "positive start."
De Hoop Scheffer said he, too, was intent on boosting what he called an "essential partnership" between NATO and Russia
because "the problems facing us are simply too big -- terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq -- to think that we can go it alone."