NATO to streamline relations with Russia

Russian foreign Igor Ivanov, Photo: CTK

Prague is seeing history in the making. At a two day summit NATO has defined new goals, plans for reform and invited seven East European states to join the alliance - in a move which will take the alliance into former Soviet territory. As US President George W. Bush put it:

Russian foreign Igor Ivanov,  Photo: CTK
"Yesterday we took a huge step towards peace and freedom. After all, we expanded NATO. We welcomed seven new members and, at the same time, we agreed to strengthen our alliance by modernizing our military, by building a NATO response force, by making sure we work in harmony together to meet the new threats of the twenty-first century. And as a result, we have strengthened the value of NATO partnership."

While the main business of the Prague NATO Summit took place on Thursday, the second day of the summit brought a different challenge - talks aimed at preserving and fostering the new relationship between NATO and Russia. President Putin of course didn't come to Prague for the summit, but the Russian foreign and defence ministers - Igor Ivanov and Sergei Ivanov - are here, and this morning they took part in a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, which was established in May this year. The NATO Secretary-General George Robertson had this to say after the meeting:

"Today twenty foreign ministers from the NATO countries and the Russian Federation had their first full ministerial-level meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. And all of the ministers expressed their profound satisfaction at the progress that has been made both on individual projects, but also in the continuing dialogue on issues of common concern and common interest. We briefed this morning on the decisions taken by NATO to enlarge, and ministers noted the assurances of NATO ministers that these decisions are not directed against the security interests of Russia or, indeed, of any other partner state."

The Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov also spoke to the press after the meeting. While in the past Russia has been strongly opposed to NATO enlargement - and the latest wave of expansion brings the alliance right up to Russia's border - Mr Ivanov reflected today the change in Russian policy towards the West, which we've seen since September 11th.

"We consider that this transformation of NATO should be welcomed and it should be considered within the general context of those international efforts which are pursued by the international community to achieve greater stability and security in the world. As for the question of the enlargement of NATO, our opposition on this issue is very well known. It has been demonstrated on a number of occasions, and at various - included the highest - levels. We have always emphasised that the mechanical enlargement of NATO without the reorientation of its military programme is not in keeping with the ideas of security and cooperation in the world, and, particularly, in the Euroatlantic space. At the same time, if this transformation which was announced is implemented in practice, if in practical activity NATO will implement practical steps in order to ensure greater stability and cooperation for opposing new threats and challenges of the contemporary world - the same challenges which Russia is trying to counter today - then the possibilities for greater interaction and cooperation between NATO and Russia will also grow."

Earlier this week, the host of the NATO Summit, Czech President Vaclav Havel, expressed his strong opposition to Russia ever being invited to join the alliance. Mr Ivanov made it clear this morning that as far as he was concerned it simply wasn't an issue:

"As for the possible admission or non-admission of Russia into NATO, Russia itself did not put forward this issue. And as Russia did not put forward this issue, there's no subject for discussion."

The NATO-Ukraine Commission - which they call NUC for short - also met this morning. There has of course been some controversy about the Ukrainian delegation because the country's president Leonid Kuchma wasn't invited to Prague because of allegations that the Ukrainians had sold radar equipment to Iraq in breach of UN sanctions. As we reported on Thursday, Mr Kuchma came to Prague anyway, and basically invited himself. The news today is that Mr Kuchma has been attending meetings at the NATO Summit. A few minutes ago the Ukrainian foreign minister Anatoliy Zlenko gave a news conference at which he said the allegations about radar sales were completely groundless:

"We are really frustrated by the unreasonable conclusions of the expert team. We would like to continue cooperation and to prove that these groundless accusations are based on assumption."

And, in contrast to the Russians, Mr Zlenko said Ukraine was very keen to join NATO in the future.