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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO and Russia Revive Relations

Political leaders of Russia and NATO declared Wednesday they were renewing their relations, which have been frozen since the Western alliance began its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia a year ago.

Both sides made clear, though, that a full restoration of trust was still a ways off.

"We have moved from permafrost into slightly softer ground," NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told reporters in Moscow after meeting with acting President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials.

"Today was a good day for resuming the dialogue and discussion that forms part of the NATO-Russia relationship," Robertson said at a press conference he held jointly with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Ivanov said Russia and the 19-member Western alliance "view each other as important strategic partners contributing to the strengthening of European and international security."

He was quick to add, however, that NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia "seriously undermined the trust between the Russian Federation and NATO." Ivanov said ties have not been fully restored and insisted that any further rapprochement will depend on the extent to which both sides meet their obligations in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, who was in Russia on a separate visit, said before the agreement was announced he doubted Robertson would succeed in completely mending relations.

"I doubt that he is looking for a breakthrough," Perry said in an interview Wednesday. "I think he just wants to make contacts" and resume discussions. It was Robertson's first visit to Russia since taking over as NATO chief.

Russian leaders have accused NATO of violating the NATO-Russia act by bombing Yugoslavia over Kosovo and announcing plans to expand further into Central Europe.

The alliance's leaders have repelled the criticism, saying the act contains no binding regulations, and have fired back by attacking Russia's military campaign in Chechnya. Both NATO and Western governments have accused Russia of using excessive force in Chechnya and have called for a political solution.

Robertson reiterated the call for peace talks in Chechnya during his meeting with Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev earlier Wednesday. In return, "the Russian side ... robustly answered the points I made ... in what was quite a strong exchange of points," Robertson said after his talks with Sergeyev.

A senior Russian general said relations with NATO should not depend on Russia's handling of Chechen separatism, and will remain "far from rosy" despite Robertson's visit.

The general, who asked not to be identified, said any further warming will partially depend on whether NATO fulfills a United Nations resolution to ensure the safe return of tens of thousands of Serbs who have fled Kosovo and on guarantees that the Albanian-majority province of Yugoslavia does not secede either de jure or de facto.

The commander said the Defense Ministry may advise the Federation Council not to extend the mandate of Russian paratroopers who are part of the KFOR peacekeeping force if the Serbs' return has not begun by mid-summer and if NATO does not allow Russian peacekeepers to be deployed in the Kosovo city of Orahovac because of protests by the Albanian population.