NATO and Russia will resume high-level talks in Brussels Friday. It is a sign that the chill in relations between the alliance and the Kremlin in the wake of the Georgia conflict is starting to pass.
The informal meeting could lead to more formal talks down the line
The talks, labelled an "informal lunch," will involve NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Russia's ambassador to the alliance, Dmitry Rogozin, a NATO official said on Thursday, Dec. 18.
The meeting will be the first high-level gathering between Russian and NATO officials since August, when Georgia and Russia fought a short-lived but intense conflict over the breakaway Georgian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
As a result of that conflict, NATO-Russia Council (NRC) talks were put on hold as tension was ratcheted up between the two parties over Russia's response to a Georgian attempt to reassert its control over South Ossetia.
Although NRC technical and working-level talks were not interrupted, all meetings at the ambassadorial, ministerial and head-of-government levels have been frozen since the August war.
Formal talks a possibility
Securing Russian gas and oil is integral for security in Europe, leaders say
A handful of European governments -- notable Germany and France -- have been eager to recommence high-level dialog with Russia owing to its position as a major supplier of natural gas and oil to Europe.
NATO foreign ministers have tasked Scheffer "to re-engage with Russia at the political level" with a possible full return to formal talks once he reports back.
Rogozin said he wanted all problematic issues between Russia and NATO to be "put on the table" so Moscow could then decide whether it wanted to proceed with NRC meetings.
"I hope the secretary general will propose dates and themes for discussion and I will see with Moscow if this is convenient, and then we will take a decision," he told the AFP news agency.
"Everything has to be put on the table," he said. "It's up to NATO to correct its errors."
Russia has vehemently opposed independence for Kosovo
Tensions between Russia and NATO have been on the increase over several contentious matters, including Kremlin anger at alliance pledges to absorb Georgia and Ukraine -- both ex-Soviet republics -- into the 26-member bloc.
Moscow views this as NATO meddling in its traditional sphere of influence and as an attempt to box Russia in.
Russia has also strongly opposed independence from Serbia for Kosovo, which Europe and NATO have backed. NATO currently has a peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
Adding further fuel to the fire is a planned US anti-missile shield base which will see elements installed in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moscow views this measure as a direct threat.
NATO, meanwhile, has condemned Russia's recognition of the independence of the two breakaway Georgian regions and views with distrust Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's proposal for a new European security pact, which the alliance believes is designed to negate the efficacy of NATO.