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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Mission Finally Opens

APVenturioni, left, and Baluyevsky speaking at the Defense Ministry ahead of the opening of the NATO's Moscow mission Monday.
NATO opened its long-delayed military mission in Moscow on Monday, on the eve of the summit meeting intended to give Russia an equal say in formulating policy on some European security issues.

"This is a big change because it will allow NATO countries, NATO and Russia, to discuss ... and take decisions on things to be done in collaboration in fields of security and military interests," said Italian Admiral Guido Venturioni, the head of NATO's military committee.

He and General Yury Baluyevsky, deputy chief of the General Staff, then cut a blue ribbon stretched across the entrance to the new office.

Some NATO officials see the new relationship to be inaugurated outside Rome on Tuesday as a painless gesture of support for Russia, which has been an enthusiastic member of the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition and been pushing for more recognition as a top international player.

But President Vladimir Putin on Monday portrayed the new arrangement as Russia's gift, "an extra contribution by Russia to international security."

The new council is to replace a consultative body set up in May 1997 to ease Moscow's alarm over NATO's plans to include some of Russia's Soviet-era allies and neighbors. NATO officials optimistically described the arrangement as "19 plus one," while the Russians regarded it as "19 against one" -- a useless talking shop where their opinion made no difference.

The rupture over the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia underlined the fragility of the council. Moscow abruptly terminated almost all cooperation with NATO, and plans to open a military mission in Moscow were frozen.

Under the 1997 agreement, NATO and Russia consulted only after the NATO allies had negotiated their own consensus -- and the NATO position was unbudgeable. Some NATO members were loathe to engage Russia, and some Russian members of the joint council refused to take part in working groups, said a diplomatic source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

This time, Russian diplomats will be in on the negotiations from the beginning. No less important, they will have access to the informal discussions outside the formal talks -- the "wheeling and dealing" phase, according to the diplomatic source -- where many positions are initially hammered out.

Venturioni also met Monday with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who praised the agreement as promoting "a new quality of relations between Russia and NATO," Interfax reported.

But even proponents of the new relationship say its success is hardly guaranteed.

"I'm convinced that if we only talk instead of taking concrete decisions, carrying them out and taking responsibility for them, the fate could be the same as before," Baluyevsky told reporters at the NATO office opening. "But I think we are starting out on a more pragmatic, realistic and concrete path."

He stressed that the new relationship did not ease Russia's opposition to NATO expansion.

"There are problems, there have been and will be problems" between Russia and NATO, Baluyevsky said. "But these are not problems that require us to look at one another through the sights of a gun. We have to solve the problems, and we will solve the problems, around a table."