NATO defense ministers are meeting in Estonia to discus closer cooperation with Ukraine and other Eastern European countries - a move likely to anger Russia.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is attending Thursday's talks to show support for Ukraine and other Eastern European allies.  A Pentagon spokesman says Gates might not have gone to the meeting if Russia had not invaded Georgia in August. 

Gates said Wednesday that Russia should not seek to prevent former Soviet allies from fully integrating with the West.

The meeting in Tallinn will evaluate Ukraine's progress towards possible membership, including required military reforms.  But the ministers are not expected to make any major decisions.

Russia fiercely opposes NATO membership for Ukraine and another aspiring member, Georgia.

Gates said Wednesday NATO is working on defense plans for Estonia and other alliance members.  He also pledged funding for an Estonian center to study cyber security. 

Hackers believed to be based in Russia attacked Estonian computer and security systems last year.

Some NATO allies are reluctant to move too fast in admitting former Soviet states, so as to avoid angering Moscow.

Russia also is upset with U.S. plans to base a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.  President Dmitri Medvedev said he will deploy Russian missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave bordering European Union members Poland and Lithuania, if the U.S. plans go through.
Washington has consistently assured Moscow that the missile system is aimed at meeting a possible attack from such rogue states as Iran, and in no way threatens Russia. 

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.