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Financial Times: Medvedev fires warning shot at Nato expansion

By Lionel Barber, Neil Buckley and Catherine Belton in Moscow
Published: March 25 2008 02:00 | Last updated: March 25 2008 02:00

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s incoming president, has warned that granting Nato membership to the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia could threaten European security.

Mr Medvedev’s comments, in an interview with the Financial Times, will step up pressure on the alliance not to allow the two states to join Nato’s “membership action plan” at a summit in Bucharest next week. Vladimir Putin, the outgoing Russian president, is due to attend part of the summit.

“We are not happy about the situation around Georgia and Ukraine. We consider that it is extremely troublesome for the existing structure of European security,” Mr Medvedev said during a two-hour interview, his first since winning Russia’s presidential election on March 2.

“No state can be pleased about having representatives of a military bloc to which it does not belong coming close to its borders.”

Mr Medvedev also suggested that joining the military alliance was against the wishes of most Ukrainians, as opinion polls have shown.

“This is . . . even more difficult to explain when the vast majority of citizens of . . . Ukraine, are categorically against joining Nato, while the government . . . follows a different policy,” said Mr Medvedev.

George W. Bush, the US president, will travel to Kiev, the Ukraine capital, on the eve of next week’s summit after pressing hard for both states to gain MAP status. But several European states oppose the move amid fears of a rift with Russia.

Separately, Mr Medvedev conceded that it was in Russia’s interests to rebuild relations with the UK, at a post-cold war low since the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the London-based Kremlin critic.

“We are open to the reestablishment of co-operation to the full extent,” he said. But he added that “time would show” whether progress could be made when he first meets Gordon Brown, the prime minister – probably at the Group of Eight summit in Japan in July.

The president-elect brushed aside suggestions that recent industrial espionage charges against an employee of TNK-BP, the Anglo-Russian oil group, could be an attempt to sabotage warming ties. But he repeated accusations that the British Council, the cultural body that was forced to close its Russian offices outside Moscow this year, was engaged in spying.

As well as making some of his first significant foreign policy announcements, Mr Medvedev pledged to strengthen the rule of law, battle corruption and ensure Russia’s new-found oil wealth translates into higher living standards for citizens.

But above all he stressed continuity. Endorsing Mr Putin’s assessment this month that Mr Medvedev would be “no simpler” for the west to deal with, he showed few signs of tempering his predecessor’s robust rhetoric.

Mr Medvedev sidestepped suggestions that he might pardon or quash new charges brought against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former tycoon jailed in Siberia after what was widely seen as a politically motivated fraud trial. He said that it was for the courts to decide what to do next with the former Yukos oil chief.

Laying down the law, Page 9 Video and transcript of interview:

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