NATO Secretary General George Robertson is in Russia on a three day visit where he'll meet with Russian leaders to discuss ties between Moscow and NATO. His visit comes at a time when those ties are changing.
George Robertson's first stop late Wednesday was not Moscow, but the southern city of Volgograd, site of an epic battle against the invading Nazis during World War II. Mr. Robertson went there to make a speech before flying to Moscow for talks with Russia's Defense Minister, Sergei Ivanov.
Shortly before the NATO chief's arrival Mr. Ivanov set the stage for what should be a frank exchange of views between the two men. Mr. Ivanov said Russia wants to overhaul its relations with NATO by establishing a new mechanism to give Moscow a greater voice within the alliance. He said Russia should even have voting rights on certain questions in NATO.
Western leaders they have said it is time to deepen cooperation with Russia, given Moscow's strong support for the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. The U.S. Ambassador to NATO said Wednesday that Washington wants closer coordination with Russia on major policy issues.
But it remains unclear just how close the relationship can become. Western officials have said it is doubtful that Russia would be granted full membership in NATO.
Both sides agree the current method of overseeing ties, through what is known as the Permanent Joint Council, needs to be changed.
Established in 1997, the council provides for monthly meetings between the alliance and Russian officials, who are critical of the council because it does not treat them as equals.
Mr. Robertson will also be discussing the situation in Afghanistan with Mr. Ivanov and with President Putin, who he will meet on Friday.