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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO-Russia Get Down to Work

APDefense Minister Sergei Ivanov reviewing honor guards with his German counterpart Rudolf Scharping upon arrival Saturday at a military airport in Cologne.
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO and Russia got down to the business of cooperating against new security threats after several weeks of diplomatic hoop-la over a new partnership between the former Cold War foes.

In the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council since it was forged at an historic summit in Rome last week, defense ministers agreed on Thursday to start practical work on the fight against terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Russia and NATO also decided to consult with each other on theater missile defense, cooperate closely in logistics, training and exercises and share experience on defense reform.

"This represents a new level of openness and transparency," NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said at a news conference at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.

"This is a substantive agenda that puts real flesh on the bones that were agreed in the Rome Declaration."

The council of 20 nations gives Russia a more equal voice than it had in the hapless "19-plus-one" Permanent Joint Council, which was established in 1997 partly to console Russia for NATO's first enlargement.

It was President Vladimir Putin who, in the face of anti-Western critics at home, provided momentum for an enhancement of Moscow's relationship with NATO. He aligned his country squarely behind the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

A decision to set up the new council was made at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Reykjavik, Iceland, last month and it was sealed by Putin, U.S. President George W. Bush and the leaders of the 18 other NATO members in Rome two weeks later.

Speeches at both meetings were peppered with soundbites declaring the end of the Cold War and the start of a new era. But Robertson couldn't resist another chance to describe Thursday's meeting between the old rivals as historic, indeed "the most historic" because it joined their defense ministers.

"So we've made dreams come true, almost routinely," he said.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov denied that he had sounded a sour note before the Brussels meeting on NATO's plans to expand eastward again, plans Moscow insists are a "mistake."

Media reports had quoted Ivanov as saying that Russia would not "bless the admission of new members" by attending November's NATO summit in Prague, where up to seven East European countries are expected to be invited to join the alliance.

"We have said nothing about participation or non-participation in Prague and I have no intention of doing so either," Ivanov said. He said there was political will on both sides to make the NATO-Russia Council work.

"We've ... taken account of the realities since Sept. 11," Ivanov said at a news conference. "It seems to me those realities have forced all of us to pause and think very seriously about the real threats that confront us all and that we all have to deal with jointly."

The NATO-Russia Council agreed to hold a follow-on conference in Moscow at the end of this year to one that was held in February on the military role in combating terrorism, focusing on the possibility of concrete cooperation.

The ministers also agreed to look for novel solutions to common problems, including some of NATO's biggest in military capability, the lack of air transport and air-to-air refueling.

Robertson said Russia could play a part in NATO's new drive to spend more and spend more wisely on defense to ensure NATO can respond to new threats wherever and whenever they emerge.

"Some of the capability gaps that the NATO countries have are capability gaps that might be filled by Russia or that Russia experiences as well," he said.