News / Europe

Russian President to Meet NATO Leaders

Portuguese police search a vehicle entering Lisbon's Parque das Nacoes district on 17 Nov 2010 where leaders of NATO member countries will attend a summit 19 Nov and 20 Nov
Portuguese police search a vehicle entering Lisbon's Parque das Nacoes district on 17 Nov 2010 where leaders of NATO member countries will attend a summit 19 Nov and 20 Nov

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet NATO leaders in Lisbon, Portugal, as they attend their annual summit 19 Nov and 20 Nov. There are a host of issues the two sides will discuss.

Medvedev will meet NATO leaders in the context of the Russia-NATO Council, which brings together the 28 members of the Western alliance, plus Russia. It is a parallel meeting to the official NATO summit and provides a venue to discuss issues important to both sides.

During a recent trip to Moscow, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the meeting with President Medvedev in Lisbon will be "an opportunity to turn a new page and to bury the ghosts of the past."

One of the key issues to be discussed is missile defense. The Bush administration proposed to deploy ground-based ballistic-missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. The Russians strongly opposed such a plan, saying it was aimed against Moscow - a view rejected by U.S. officials.

Ohio Wesleyan University NATO expert Sean Kay said President Barack Obama reconfigured missile-defense plans for Europe. "The Obama administration, and I think very wisely, shifted the focus to regional missile defense, theater missile defense capabilities, and the kinds of layers of missile defenses that already exist for troop protection and so forth, inside NATO planning."

Moscow's reaction to the latest missile defense plan, although not totally positive, was far less strident than its opposition to the Bush initiative. That has prompted NATO officials to seek cooperation with Russia, and that issue will be discussed at the summit.

Former U.S. ambassador to NATO in the Clinton administration Robert Hunter, who is now a scholar at the Rand Corporation, looks at Russia's apparently softening position.

"What has happened is that the Russians have come around to see that all they were doing was isolating themselves - they might actually get some benefits from it in terms of security and they can get some benefits from it in terms of industrial participation," said Hunter. "I think we also see Mr. Medvedev contrasting himself with prime minister, former president Vladimir Putin, to say, 'Look, we Russians will do better if we are working with the West and particularly the Europeans, than if we continue to stand aloof and play dog in a manger (spoiler).'"

NATO also is expected to discuss increased cooperation with Russia in Afghanistan. Russia allows NATO to transport non-lethal supplies from Europe to Afghanistan overland.

"The capacity to use Russia as a supply route, for at least some items, is helping to relieve the pressure on NATO forces in Afghanistan, who are finding certain vulnerabilities to the transit through Pakistan," said Hunter.

NATO officials say they want to expand the agreement to allow the transport of other items, such as heavy equipment. In addition, NATO wants Russia to provide 20 helicopters and pilot training to the Afghan army.

Kay said the relationship between Russia and NATO goes beyond cooperation over Afghanistan. "The bigger point is more symbolic and political: that the relationship can be renewed, rebuilt, rebooted and keep these kinds of architectures going between Russia and the West. Because at the end of the day, the West needs Russia on a range of issues from North Korea, to Iran, to Afghanistan and they [the Russians] continue to need the goodwill of the West on a wide range of things. So the interests converge and the NATO-Russia relationship is a good vehicle to keep those processes moving forward."

Analysts say one key irritant in relations between NATO and Russia has been taken care of: the alliance's eastward expansion, strongly opposed by Moscow. At the Lisbon summit, no new countries are to join NATO, and as one analyst put it, it appears that at this time, NATO enlargement has run its course.

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