At a NATO-Russia Council meeting in Sochi, the Kremlin warned the Western military alliance against unilaterally building a defense shield in Eastern Europe. The two also remain at loggerheads over the conflict in Libya.
Despite conciliatory efforts, the two remain at odds
According to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, the pleasant weather in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday was reflected in the relationship between Russia and NATO.
Medvedev (right) joked with Rasmussen in Sochi
"Good weather, good relations," Medvedev joked in front of reporters during the final press conference in Sochi.
All politeness aside, however, it was clear from the start that contentious issues would dominate this meeting: on the one hand, the ongoing dispute over how NATO should carry on in Libya and, on the other, Russia's opposition to Western plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
The Kremlin fears the missile defense plans threaten Russia's national security. For Medvedev, a compromise is only possible if Russia is allowed to take part in any future European defense system.
"On the basis of such decisions we can build a strategic partnership, according to the principle that our security cannot be divided, on mutual confidence, transparency, predictability; and on the whole this would enhance global security and would be in the interests of the people who live in our countries," Medvedev said.
Russia wants in on the missile defense shield plans
After the press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave a more direct - and negative - assessment of the situation and the progress made at the Sochi talks.
"We did not agree. We accepted the NATO position as an accomplished fact," adding that Russia would have to respond if the West went ahead with its plans for the shield unilaterally.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, however, stressed that the plans were not directed against Russia because the alliance "does not regard Russia as a threat."
"NATO will not alter its plans, but is open to cooperation with Russia," he concluded.
Loggerheads over Libya
On Libya, Medvedev stressed that Russia and NATO were in agreement on most issues regarding the future of the country. "We all want Libya to be a modern, sovereign state," the president told reporters at the conference.
Still, Russia remains critical of NATO's ongoing air campaign in Libya, saying the coalition now seeks to topple the Gadhafi regime, instead of simply protecting civilians as it was "supposed to do," according to the mandate from the UN Security Council.
Rasmussen defended NATO's position, saying that the alliance was operating in full accordance with the UN resolution on Libya.
"We have been mandated to take all necessary means to protect civilians against attacks and so far we have been very successful in protecting civilians. We have prevented a massacre on the Libyan people. We have saved numerous lives, so I would say we have successfully implemented the Security Council resolution.''
Russia is against NATO air raids on Gadhafi forces
Rasmussen and Medvedev had been in consultation in Sochi with South African President Jacob Zuma, who presented African Union plans for a resolution in Libya. NATO and Russia promised to study the proposals, which Lavrov said were focused on starting peace talks.
"We will support everything that fosters the swiftest halt to the military phase of the conflict and the shift to political channels," Lavrov said.
In response to Russian calls for peace, Rasmussen said NATO was pursuing every avenue to bring about a ceasefire.
He emphasized, however, that "any ceasefire must be credible, must be verifiable" and "any solution must accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people."
Author: Geert Groot Koerkamp, Moscow / glb
Editor: Michael Lawton