BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to focus on areas of agreement rather than discord at talks with NATO leaders on Friday, in efforts to keep ties with the West on a relatively even keel before he steps down.
Putin, making a guest appearance at a NATO summit before talks in Russia with U.S. President George W. Bush on Sunday, was buoyed by NATO’s decision not to set Georgia and Ukraine on a path to membership at an alliance summit in Bucharest.
But NATO also pledged to let the two former Soviet republics join one day, a decision that could complicate Putin’s talks.
Russian officials made clear no progress was expected in the Romanian capital on the main disputes between the former Cold War foes — including NATO enlargement, U.S. plans for a missile defense system and Kosovo’s independence.
“Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) will indeed use the opportunity to deliver to the NATO leaders our vision of the global situation, our understanding of the need for better relations between NATO and Russia,” a Kremlin source said.
“We sometimes tend to forget that apart from the existing differences there is a big positive potential that has accumulated in past years.”
The meetings over the next few days will be Putin’s last with NATO and then Bush before he hands over to President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, his protege, in May.
Relations with the West have become more strained since Putin started taking a more strident approach to foreign policy during his eight-year presidency.
But good personal ties between Putin and Bush have helped soothe some of the rifts in relations with the United States, and the West in general, and both want to leave a good foreign policy legacy as they prepare to step down.
Although one Russian official said it would be a “huge strategic mistake” by NATO to take in Georgia and Ukraine, another suggested neither would soon be ready to enter NATO.
“I strongly doubt that in a year Georgia will solve its problems and Ukraine will increase the number of people favoring NATO,” Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozinn, told Interfax news agency.
Although Putin will focus mainly on what is positive in relations with the NATO leaders, he will not avoid some areas of discord, Russian officials said.
Russia has alarmed the West by freezing participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which limits troops and armor deployed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Urals Mountains.
Russia says it was forced into the move by the reluctance of NATO members to ratify the deal. NATO says Russia should first withdraw troops from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, as it promised in 1999.
“We are open to dialogue but I foresee no change in our position,” a senior member of the Russian delegation said.
Putin is also expected to confirm Russia’s opposition to Western recognition of Serbia’s breakaway province of Kosovo. Russia says any decision on Kosovo should take into account the opinion of its traditional allies in Belgrade.
Russian officials said Putin was also expected to raise concerns about U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in central Europe, but the main talks on this will be with Bush in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Sunday.
Despite the differences, Putin is sure to send a signal to NATO that Russia remains committed to cooperation.
He is expected to allow a transit of the alliance’s non-military goods through its territory for a 43,000-strong NATO-led United Nations force in Afghanistan.
“We view partnership with NATO as an element in ensuring global stability and security,” RIA news agency quoted a Kremlin source assaying. “This cooperation is good for the political and psychological climate in Europe.”