NATO and Russia held their first high-level talks Friday since Moscow invaded Georgia in August, sparking international criticism.
The lunchtime talks took place between NATO's secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Russia's ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin. NATO suspended its special relationship with Moscow - a framework known as the NATO-Russia Council - after the Georgian conflict four months ago. But earlier this month, NATO foreign ministers agreed to slowly resume dialogue with Russia.
Friday's talks follow other efforts on the part of the European Union and the United States to resume talks with Moscow. Clara O'Donnell, a defense expert a the Center for European Reform in London, said there was a feeling on the part of NATO members that it was a mistake to break contact with Russia.
"There was a feeling that there was a certain lack of strategy on how to go forward. There was a realization that everybody else had started talking to Russia again, and NATO was the organization that wasn't," she said.
O'Donnell said even during the height of the Cold War between the West and the former Soviet Union, the two sides talked together. The reason, she said, is simple.
"NATO and Russia need each other. Or more to the point, the countries within NATO and [Russia] need each other. The two groups are very interdependent on energy issues and many geopolitical issues - if we're talking about Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iran, these are all issues that if the Europeans and americans want to solve them, they need Russia's help," said O'Donnell.
Besides the August conflict, the two sides are at odds over other issues - notably the possibility of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO. Russia also opposes U.S. plans for an anti-missile defense shield in eastern Europe. There is talk about improving and revamping relations on both sides, but O'Donnell, for one, does not count on any big changes in the immediate future. It will also depend partly on the upcoming administration of president-elect Barack Obama in Washington.