Russia's NATO envoy calls for closer ties with Belarus

MOSCOW, July 1 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's envoy to NATO said on Tuesday that Russia-Belarus ties should be strengthened, and that the two countries could never join the Western military alliance.

Speaking at a Moscow-Minsk-Brussels video conference hosted by RIA Novosti, Dmitry Rogozin said that with the increasing global influence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russia and Belarus "must act."

"It is time for us to have our own plans, clear timeframes, and responsible people, and to do what is necessary in the interests of building a union state."

The two post-Soviet countries have strongly criticized NATO's ongoing expansion, the alliance's refusal to ratify a new version of the Conventional Forces in Europe arms reduction pact, and plans of NATO-member the United States to deploy missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic.

When asked whether Russia and Belarus could ever join NATO, Rogozin said that even if there were a sudden reversal of public opinion, and the countries' citizens wanted to be led by Washington, membership would still be impossible.

"This is simply because some NATO member, an independent Baltic state or a 'big power' like Poland, will be scared of us. They would never be able to swallow this," Rogozin said.

Russia and Belarus have been in talks since 1997 over creation of the union state, but the negotiations have been complicated by a host of issues, including energy and financial disputes.