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November 01, 2010

Analysts Say Time is Right for New Russia-NATO Relationship

Increasing military dialogue and cooperation in Afghanistan are two signs Russia may be poised to find a new relationship with NATO.  A new report says, with a NATO summit later this month in Lisbon, the time is ripe for such a change.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will be attending the NATO summit later this month, and analyst Oksana Antonenko of London´s International Institution for Security Studies says there are clear signs NATO is feeling conciliatory.

"I think there is a lot of goodwill now, we hear it from the new NATO Secretary General who made the first of his speeches when he became secretary general on the relationship with Russia," said Antonenko.  "There is a very serious commitment on the part of the Obama administration to move forward to a completely new quality with relationship with Russia.  I think things are changing."

Antonenko co-authored a report outlining possible steps to help change the relationship.  She says the NATO summit will be the first step in a long process.

"So transforming the relationship as we say from NATO and Russia being reluctant partners to becoming committed friends, and I think that, of course we all could agree, would require a rather long road to travel before that can be achieved," she said.

Her co-author, Igor Yurgens, the chairman of Moscow´s Institute of Contemporary Development, says Russia´s attitude toward NATO has changed

"Nobody on the territory of Russian Federation thinks about the attack from NATO and I have not heard  of anybody in NATO who really think about a Russian attack," said Yurgens.

The NATO-Russia relationship had been strained, in part over differences about NATO´s possible inclusion of border nations such as Georgia and Ukraine.  The decision on Georgia has been postponed and Ukraine´s government has withdrawn its interest.

But last month, Russian anti-narcotics agents took part in an operation in Afghanistan.  Antonenko says that is part of a larger pattern of cooperation.

"We see now an unprecedented level of military to military contacts, which never existed before and I think we have seen over the last several  months, for example, meetings between Russian and NATO military planners to exchange information even about the nuclear doctrines not to speak about defense doctrines," she said.

Officials at the NATO summit are expected to announce Russia will supply helicopters for Afghan forces in Afghanistan, but Russia´s foreign minister reiterated his nation will not send Russian troops.  

Russia has an agreement to supply small arms to Afghan forces and may help train the Afghan military and police, a key pillar to NATO´s exit strategy in Afghanistan.