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Putin appoints firebrand as Russia's NATO envoy

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin has appointed a firebrand nationalist who champions re-armament to counter the West as Russia's permanent representative to NATO, a Kremlin spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Putin has signed a decree appointing Dmitry Rogozin, the flamboyant former head of Russia's Motherland party, to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the spokeswoman said.

Dmitry Rogozin seen in Moscow in this January 28, 2007 file photo. (REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin)

Rogozin, 44, who has called for Russia to rearm to counter the threat from the Western military alliance, has recently said that if he got the job he would defend the interests of Serbia in Kosovo.

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, who has hiked military spending during his 8 year presidency, has warned that Russia will not remain indifferent to NATO's "muscle-flexing" near its borders.

Rogozin, was born into a Moscow military family and studied journalism at Moscow University. He worked as Putin's representative in negotiations with the European Union over the status of Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave, after EU expansion.

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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