Russia sees warmer NATO ties if concerns heard

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s newly-appointed military envoy to NATO pledged on Monday to develop ties with the Atlantic alliance provided it took into account Moscow’s security concerns.

Army General Alexei Maslov, chief commander of Russia’s Ground Forces, told Itar-Tass news agency cooperation with NATO could be successful if there was real, equal partnership.

“Russia will build its ties with NATO, depending on the alliance’s ... commitment not to ensure their security at the expense of Russia’s security,” he said.

Russia fiercely opposes NATO’s eastward expansion and views membership bids made by its ex-Soviet neighbors Ukraine and Georgia as a threat to its national security.

Announcing Maslov’s appointment earlier on Monday, the Defence Ministry said the move “is meant to underline the importance Moscow attaches to its relations with NATO.”

In January, then President Vladimir Putin appointed firebrand nationalist Dmitry Rogozin as Russian ambassador to NATO. Before his appointment, Rogozin had called for Russia to re-arm to counter the threat from NATO.

The 54-year-old Maslov, a career officer who has risen from tank platoon commander, will replace Vice-Admiral Valentin Kuznetsov, posted to Brussels since 2002.

Army General Vladimir Boldyrev, commander of Russia’s Volga-Urals military district, will replace Maslov as ground forces chief, a Defence Ministry official said.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Robert Hart