June 27, 2012
ULYANOVSK, Russia — The people of Ulyanovsk, a poverty-stricken city sitting high on the banks of the mighty Volga, are having a hard time accepting the idea that NATO is their friend and that they should help the alliance extricate itself from Afghanistan.
Russia is officially anti-NATO. Most Russians fear it. They say the West betrayed them when Mikhail Gorbachev let the Iron Curtain fall along with the Berlin Wall on his understanding that the military alliance would not move eastward.
NATO did indeed move eastward, signing up Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltics — the West says Gorbachev misunderstood its intentions. Now NATO’s plans for a missile defense system in Europe have aroused that long-simmering anger. Russians say they can’t believe NATO assurances that the missiles would not be aimed here. They have been deceived before, they say.
Despite the threat it feels, Russia has resolutely supported the NATO presence in Afghanistan. “We both have an interest in Afghanistan being a stable country that doesn’t export terrorism,” said Robert Pszczel, director of the NATO Information Center in Moscow.
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