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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NEWS ANALYSIS: Analysts Anticipate Thaw Between NATO, Russia




After almost a year in a deep freeze, Russia's ties with NATO look set to thaw significantly soon, even if they take a long time to defrost completely.


Military analysts say acting President Vladimir Putin has several reasons for wanting to improve relations with the Western alliance now.


"Putin understands Russia is isolated on the international arena because of Chechnya," said Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office. "NATO is an appropriate partner because it wants to restore ties and doesn't want to corner Russia."


NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson is expected in Moscow, possibly in the first half of February, for his first trip to Russia in the post. Robertson says he would like to discuss the war in Chechnya and Moscow's new security concept.


"We are at the moment looking at the possibility of reconnecting with Russia on a wider field of interests than we are presently engaged in," he said in Ukraine on Thursday.


Moscow froze ties March 24 after NATO began bombing Yugoslavia.


Vadim Solovyov, managing editor of the weekly military newspaper Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, said Putin realized Russia could not guarantee its security without contacts with NATO. But there would still be limits for some time to come.


"There are no grounds so far to talk about a return to full relations," he said.


Putin replaced Boris Yeltsin as president New Year's Eve but remains prime minister. He has taken this to mean he cannot leave Russia, as the prime minister ordinarily fills in for the president.


To get around the travel ban, Putin has made great play of inviting several senior foreign dignitaries to Moscow.


Yet Robertson's likely visit arguably carries added significance.


After relations were put on hold, the rhetoric, not least from Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, reached Cold War intensity.


But a NATO official said it was Ivanov who had telephoned NATO's Brussels headquarters in December to invite Robertson.


A senior NATO official is already negotiating with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak about what any joint statement would say, one Western diplomat said. Robertson "can't make a visit without a substantial statement," he said.


There are at least two sticking points. Moscow would like a stronger voice in the Permanent Joint Council, which brought NATO members and Russia together under a 1997 agreement.


The diplomat said Russia would also probably mention the United Nations Security Council and international law. Moscow accused NATO of starting its campaign in Yugoslavia without UN backing.