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Russia: NATO Chief Praises Cooperation, Despite Differences

NATO's Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (left) meets with Russia's Anatoly Serdukov in Brussels
NATO's Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (left) meets with Russia's Anatoly Serdukov in Brussels
NATO's secretary-general has hailed cooperation with Russia, despite a number of sharp disagreements between Moscow and the Western alliance.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's comments came as NATO defense ministers met in Brussels with their Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, and separately with Ukraine's defense chief.

De Hoop Scheffer said there was a "broad area" of successful cooperation, such as the agreement to allow the transit through Russia of supplies for NATO's Afghan mission, or cooperation in the broader fight against terrorism.

"Let me mention Afghanistan -- Russian support to ISAF including the land-transit agreement, [and] we're working on an air-transport deal in this regard," he said. "We have, on the basis of a discussion in Bucharest, stepped up our counternarcotics training program. Russia continues -- [which is a] very important point -- to participate in NATO's naval antiterrorist operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean, a third Russian ship now is being prepared to deploy in the [Mediterranean] at the end of summer."

But there were also continued differences, too, de Hoop Scheffer said, on a number of well-known issues, including NATO enlargement, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, missile defense, Kosovo, Georgia.

"So there are [quite a few] issues on which we do not see eye to eye, but we use the [NATO-Russia Council] to discuss these and we use the [council], of course, also to analyze and make an inventory of the many forms of practical cooperation that we have," de Hoop Scheffer said.

Russia and NATO have clashed recently on all the subjects mentioned by de Hoop Scheffer.

Last month, new President Dmitry Medvedev warned of an "adequate response" to U.S. missile-defense plans for Central Europe, plans which NATO has endorsed.

On Kosovo, Russia, like Serbia, has opposed its declaration of independence. True, several members of NATO have not recognized Kosovo either. But the alliance on June 12 still managed to agree to train a new, lightly armed security force for the newly independent state.

On Georgia, de Hoop Scheffer recently rebuked Russia for sending several hundred soldiers into the Georgian breakaway province of Abkhazia.

And there are also disagreements, of course, on the eastward expansion of NATO. In April, NATO decided not to put Ukraine and Georgia on an immediate path to membership, but did say both would eventually join.

Medvedev said last week that NATO expansion could spoil relations with Moscow for years to come.

But Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko tried to reassure Russia that his country's membership ambitions are not aimed at Moscow. In an interview with the French daily "La Croix," Yushchenko said Ukrainian territory would not be used against Russia.

Ukraine's membership aspirations were also up for discussion when NATO ministers met their Ukrainian counterpart, Yuriy Yekhanurov.

Public opinion polls have shown a minority of Ukrainians support NATO membership. But Yekhanurov said more and more were seeing its advantages.

"Despite the diversity of political views and positions in Ukraine, there is growing consolidation among political elites and understanding of NATO's role and tasks, as well as the national advantages of joining [NATO's] Membership Action Plan," Yekhanurov said.

NATO has now reaffirmed that Ukraine's progress toward membership would be reviewed by alliance foreign ministers in December.

Plenty of fodder, then, for "constructive exchanges of views" at future NATO-Russia Council meetings.

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