Lavrov: Putin Will Not Attend NATO Summit

BRUSSELS -- President Vladimir Putin will skip a NATO summit with U.S. President George W. Bush in Turkey this month, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

Lavrov gave no reason why Putin would not attend, but insisted he was not snubbing the 26-nation talks in Istanbul and would have other chances to meet Bush.

The disclosure is another blow to an event for which ambitions have already been scaled down with the decision not to invite Arab states, and with no prospect of an agreement for a direct NATO military role in Iraq.

"It was never agreed that he would go. This was discussed but he never accepted so you cannot speak of a cancellation," Lavrov said after confirming Putin would not be at the summit.

He said Putin would meet Bush this month at commemorations in France marking the World War II D-day landings and at a summit of leading industrial nations in Sea Island, in the U.S. state of Georgia.

Earlier a senior NATO diplomat said Lavrov was expected to attend in Putin's place. Asked if he would go, Lavrov replied: "I was never invited."

NATO gained seven new eastern European members this year, including the former Soviet Baltic republics, whose membership of Moscow's former Cold War adversary has irked Russia.

NATO aircraft began patrolling the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on March 29 as soon as they joined along with Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

But diplomats said NATO's enlargement was probably not the showstopper for Putin. Indeed, he sent Lavrov to NATO for talks in April just hours after the flags of the seven countries had been raised at the alliance's headquarters.

Vladimir Socor, a senior fellow of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week that Putin was "playing hard to get" to win concessions in a standoff on a treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe.

He said Putin wanted continued tolerance of Russia's failure to comply with commitments under the 1999-adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe.

Signed in the dying days of the Cold War, the treaty limits military equipment deployed and stored between the Atlantic Ocean and Russia's Ural mountains. Russia is anxious for the adapted treaty to be ratified so that the Baltic states can sign up. Some Russian officials fear they could become NATO outposts for nuclear arms or army bases.