Russia is deeply worried by NATO's pledge to bring Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance, despite its failure to do so immediately, a senior Russian diplomat said Friday.
Sergei Ryabkov, chief of the Russian Foreign Ministry's department for European co-operation, spoke just before Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down for a meeting with NATO leaders on the sidelines of a summit in the Romanian capital.
Ryabkov said Russia's ties with NATO had soured over what he described as reluctance by the West to listen to its concerns.
"A culture of searching for solutions on the basis of taking mutual interests into account has been lost," he told reporters.
He criticized NATO's decision Thursday to promise eventual membership to two of Russia's ex-Soviet neighbors. NATO failed to offer the two nations specific membership plans because Germany, France and some other alliance members feared the move would anger Russia.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reassured Ukraine and Georgia Friday there was "not a sliver of a doubt" the two ex-Soviet republics would join the alliance before long.
He also told reporters at the NATO summit in Bucharest that the Western military alliance will help Ukraine in any way it can to make reforms.
"These countries will become members of NATO — there can be no misunderstanding about that," de Hoop Scheffer said.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said his country understands the challenges that delayed its bid and remains devoted to democratic and European values.
"I'm not a naive politician, and I clearly understand what debates and challenges we were speaking about," Yushchenko said. He also said he was confident that Ukraine would get a formal "membership action plan" at a December meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
Support for NATO mixed
But Ryabkov said that NATO's firm pledge to grant membership to Ukraine and Georgia infringed on the rights of their citizens.
"The allies have taken this decision without asking the population," he said.
Ukraine is divided between western regions that support the NATO bid and Russian-speaking eastern and southern provinces that staunchly oppose it.
In Georgia, the majority of citizens supported the NATO bid in a recent referendum. But that nation is plagued by conflicts in the separatist provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have close ties with Russia.
Ryabkov also voiced a strong concern about NATO's support for the U.S. plan to deploy missile defence sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The NATO statement called on its members to explore ways in which the planned U.S. shield can be linked with future missile defences elsewhere. It said leaders should come up with recommendations to be considered at their next meeting in 2009.
"We have new concerns about plans to integrate U.S. missile defence plans with NATO system," he said, signalling that Russia may abandon co-operation with NATO on a short-range missile defence in Europe.
"We can't sit aside and watch how they rubber-stamp decisions made by other people changing the security situation for Russia," Ryabkov said, referring to Washington's missile defence plan.
Putin views the U.S. missile shield as a threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent and has shrugged aside U.S. pledges that it is intended to counter a missile threat from Iran. He and Bush are set to discuss the issue at their meeting in Putin's Black Sea residence in Sochi this weekend.
Ryabkov said that, despite sharp differences, Russia stands ready to co-operate with the alliance on issues where their interests converge, such as Afghanistan.
Russia has agreed to a transit deal with NATO to allow the alliance to ship non-lethal freight across Russian territory to military forces in Afghanistan, he said.