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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO and Russia Look to Work Together in Air

NATO's top general in Moscow said Monday the alliance and Russia were looking to work together on giant transport aircraft and midair refueling to get closer defense cooperation off the ground.

Major-General Peter Williams, head of the newly opened NATO Military Liaison Mission in Moscow, told reporters he was cautiously optimistic about cooperation on air transport.

Williams said governments had to provide hard cash if they want to realize the commitment to defense cooperation made at the NATO-Russia Council's founding summit outside Rome in May. In a first decision, the two sides agreed in June to create an international sea rescue service, to respond to disasters like the August 2000 loss of the Kursk submarine.

Williams said NATO experts talked to Russian officials last year about cooperating on giant military cargo planes like the An-70 being jointly developed by Russia and Ukraine.

The aircraft had a troubled birth. A midair collision destroyed the first prototype in 1995 killing its seven-man crew. The second prototype crashed in January last year.

The plane was snubbed two years ago by European governments in favor of Airbus Industrie's A400M military transporter.

If NATO is serious about working with Russia on the aircraft, it would represent a reversal of policy, which analysts believe was prompted by European countries. Unlike the United States, the European Union lacks heavy lift capacity as it seeks a more ambitious security role, notably with the creation of a rapid reaction force by 2003.

"I think from the indications we have received it is the air-to-air refueling aspect that may be what the Russian Federation authorities are interested in," Williams said. "These are areas in which both the Russian armed forces and NATO have a lot of experience, although it's not clear whether they are capable of acting together."

Independent defense analyst Alexander Golts said that the two sides clearly wanted to put flesh on the bones of the NATO-Russia Council. "It looks like they prefer to have some small programs in order to prove to everybody that this cooperation can work," Golts said.