BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO hopes to benefit from more Russian help with its troubled Afghan operation and other pressing security issues by resuming formal ties with Moscow, suspended after its intervention in Georgia last year.
Ministers from the 26 NATO states agreed Thursday to resume meetings of the NATO-Russia Council as soon as possible after an April 3-4 summit of the Western military alliance.
The council was established in 2002 with high hopes for cooperation against terrorism and in crisis management, non-proliferation, arms control, theater missile defense, logistics, civil emergencies and military-to-military links.
* Even before its suspension, it had failed to live up to expectations.
* Russia complained it was not treated as an equal partner, despite the council’s founding ethos that it should meet as 27 allies rather than the 26 NATO countries plus one.
* Alliance diplomats in turn complained about Moscow’s attitude, despite some progress on theater missile defense and in counter-narcotics training.
* “In the past there was a lot of frustration that the Russians would come to NRC meetings with pat lines and a lot of rhetoric — there was never the sense that they really wanted to work with NATO,” a NATO diplomat said.
* “It wasn’t seen as being particularly effective or more than just an exchange of views. The hope now is that both sides are now seeing the council as an opportunity and a real mechanism and something much more than it was.”
* NATO is particularly interested in expanding cooperation on dealing with the Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan. Ahead of the NATO meeting, Russia gave a taste of this by allowing land transit of non-lethal U.S. military supplies for Afghanistan.
* NATO hopes such help could be extended to air traffic and lethal aid.
* It also wants Russia to encourage Central Asian states to allow passage of supplies and keep open bases used by NATO.
* Kyrgyzstan announced a decision last month to shut a U.S. military air base used for the war in Afghanistan, just after securing $2 billion in aid and loans from Russia.
* The Bush administration led NATO’s suspension of the NRC. President Barack Obama’s team has made clear it wants to turn a new page in ties with Russia, especially on issues of global security from Afghanistan to Iran.
* NATO incensed Moscow by last year promising Georgia and Ukraine, another former Soviet state, eventual membership. But it has stopped short of putting them on a formal path to membership and made clear their joining is a long way off.
* “Russia is a global player. Not talking to them is not an option,” NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.
Editing by Andrew Roche