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NATO chief tries to sweet-talk Russia on expansion


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MOSCOW (Reuters) - NATO's top official sought to reassure sceptical Russians on Thursday that the U.S.-led military alliance's expansion into the former Soviet Union was no threat to Russia.

In a radio interview, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the bloc's enlargement to take in the three Baltic States was not based on an anti-Russian ideology.

"I consider it my responsibility to convince these politicians and to convince those Russian citizens that NATO has no ulterior motives," he said.

Though the two sides work together on many issues through a joint council and Russia plans to sign an armed forces cooperation pact with its Cold War adversary, Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov says NATO harbours anti-Russian bias and has an offensive position.

He has warned the alliance that Moscow may revise its own military doctrine in response.

Russia's deep suspicion of NATO, rooted in the Cold War, was underscored on Thursday by a snap poll issued by the liberal Ekho Moskvy radio station in de Hoop Scheffer's interview. Some 71 percent of listeners regarded NATO's expansion as a threat.

"I still have a lot of work to do to convince these voters that this is not the case," said de Hoop Scheffer, who is on his first trip to Russia.

Former Soviet Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and four other east European states joined NATO at the end of March.

"They did this out of their free will because they wanted to form part of...NATO, which is an organisation that is defending values, values and society, democracy, the rule of law and human rights," de Hoop Scheffer said.

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