MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s envoy to NATO said on Friday Moscow was ready to go ahead with restoring ties with the alliance despite tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats and controversial military exercises in Georgia.
Dmitry Rogozin suggested the expulsions of two Russians from Brussels and two alliance officials from Moscow, along with the NATO exercises, could be part of a plot to sabotage U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy of improving relations.
“It is time to put a full stop in this story and restore relations as soon as possible,” Rogozin said from Brussels during a video link with Moscow journalists. “We will go ahead with restoring relations.”
The Western alliance froze contacts with Moscow over Russia’s five-day war with Georgia last year and resumed formal talks on April 29, the day NATO informed Moscow it was expelling two Russian diplomats.
The row killed a plan to hold the first ministerial meeting between Moscow and the alliance this month. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov decided against going to Brussels.
Rogozin said Lavrov’s decision to stay away was not fatal for relations with NATO.
“We do not think NATO is lost for us as partner,” he said.
There were conciliatory remarks too from NATO General James Mattis, the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, who pointed on Friday to the fight against terrorism as a common interest that united the military alliance and Moscow.
“Russia, from our perspective, is making it a bit difficult but in the long term we have more reasons for optimism, I think, than ever,” Mattis said at a conference near Brussels.
“We’re working against the enemy in Afghanistan, which is consistent with Russia’s aims, and eventually I think we’ll get through these difficult times, and based on mutual benefit we’ll work together.
“In the long run I think we have more reasons for optimism than pessimism. In the short term there’s going to be some challenges.”
Rogozin also blamed the latest problems in Russia’s relations with NATO on forces in the alliance hostile to Russia, pointing a finger at new Eastern European members, former Soviet satellites in the Warsaw Pact.
“We have wonderful relations with some NATO members,” he said. “But there are those who are afraid of getting lost in the Euro-Atlantic structures and seek to remind the world about themselves at any opportunity.”
Unnamed Bush-era officials were also responsible, he added.
“A new team is now being formed in the United States ... and there are still people appointed by the old administration,” he said. “We admit a possibility that what we see is a plot against Obama in the Euro-Atlantic camp.”
Additional reporting by Tim Heritage in Brussels; editing by Andrew Roche