NATO is set to open its first permanent mission in Moscow next month, as the alliance and Russia finalize a new partnership agreement.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson is expected to personally open the mission here in Moscow on May 27.

Until now, NATO has only had an information office in the Russian capital. It opened in February of last year. The alliance did have a liaison office in Moscow before that, but it was ordered closed to protest NATO's air war against Yugoslavia in 1999. The opening of a new permanent mission, next month, comes just one day before the alliance and Russia are expected to sign a new partnership agreement in Rome.

Moscow has long insisted that the existing cooperation agreement with NATO is one-sided and flawed, saying it only gave Russia a meager advisory role. In particular, Russia hoped to have a greater say about NATO expansion eastward, which it views as a potential threat.

NATO announced last week that a new agreement had been reached. It envisions a 20-member joint council, where all members would have an equal say on certain common issues, such as preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the fight against terrorism. Decisions would be based on consensus. However, NATO will retain sole decision-making powers over other issues, deemed to be solely within its purview.

In an interview with Russian state television Sunday, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov welcomed the new agreement as a crucial step forward. He said it signifies a new level of cooperation and could become an important element in building a whole new security framework for all of Europe.