Putin appoints firebrand as Russia’s NATO envoy

MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin has appointed a firebrand nationalist as Russia’s permanent representative to NATO as the Kremlin takes a more assertive stance with its Cold War foe.

A Kremlin spokeswoman said on Thursday that Putin has signed a decree appointing Dmitry Rogozin, the flamboyant former head of a nationalist party in parliament, to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Rogozin, who has called for Russia to rearm to counter the threat from the Western military alliance, said last month that if he got the job he would defend the interests of Serbia in Kosovo and raise the issue of a U.S. plan for a missile shield.

NATO is viewed with great suspicion in Russia, where officials say expansion eastwards shows the alliance forged during the Cold War is being used by the United States and top European powers to counter Russian influence.

Putin has raised military spending during his 8-year presidency and warned last month that Russia will not remain indifferent to NATO’s “muscle-flexing” near its borders.

Russian ties with the military alliance have been strained by concerns about Washington’s plans to station a missile defense shield in Europe, Moscow’s suspension of a landmark arms treaty and disagreements over the future of Kosovo.

Rogozin, 44, was born into a Moscow military family and studied journalism at Moscow State University.

He told the Echo Mosvky radio station last month that NATO and Russia had much to cooperate on but said he would take a tough line to defend Russian interests.

“For some reason it is assumed that our relations consist of barking at each other — one side says Woof Woof and the other side replies Woof Woof,” Rogozin said. “In fact, there is a massive amount of questions where we have no conflicts at all.”

“The main motive of my work is the protection of the national interests of the great power I represent,” he said. “If the national interests of this great power are threatened by anyone than I will fight against this with, above all, diplomatic means.”

KREMLIN PRESSURE

Rogozin, who says he speaks English, French, Spanish, Italian and Czech, was Putin’s representative in negotiations with the European Union over the status of Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave, after EU expansion.

Rogozin won prominence as the leader of the Kremlin-backed Motherland (Rodina) party, which came fourth in 2003 parliamentary polls on promises to protect the interests of ethnic Russians.

But two years later, Rogozin fell out with the Kremlin and his party was disqualified from Moscow city council elections for a video advertisement interpreted by a court as racist.

He left politics following Kremlin pressure on members of his party, complaining that he had paid the price for becoming too popular.

Rogozin replaces Konstantin Totsky as Russia’s permanent representative to NATO. Totsky was appointed by Putin in March 2003. He is 57.

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