Nato and Russia have agreed to resume military ties in their first high-level meeting since Russia’s war with Georgia disrupted their relations 10 months ago.
Nato’s outgoing secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, announced that the so-called Nato-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve ties between the former Cold War rivals, was operational again.
“It was my ambition to leave to my successor a council that is up and running,” said Mr de Hoop Scheffer, whose term as secretary-general ends on August 1.
“After the meeting which just ended, I have achieved that aim. Because there was clearly a sense in that meeting that the council, which had been in neutral is now back in gear,” he said.
“We also agreed to restart the military to military contacts.”
Relations between the alliance and the Russian military were frozen after the five-day Georgian war last August.
Although political ties have thawed considerably over the past five months, there had been no formal military contacts since then.
The resumption of talks means Nato and Russia can co-operate on a range of security issues, including Afghanistan and efforts to fight piracy, terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, met his counterparts from Nato’s 28 member nations on the western Greek island of Corfu ahead of a broader informal meeting of ministers from the 56-nation Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Mr De Hoop Scheffer described the talks as “open and constructive”, saying: “We did not try to paper over our differences on Georgia, for example. But we agreed not to allow those agreements to bring the council to a halt.”
He said the renewed military contacts would involve meetings of the chiefs of staff of Russia and Nato countries.
The meeting in Corfu, which came as President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev prepare to hold a summit next week, reflected the trend towards improved relations with Russia.
Mr Lavrov said that “overall I view this meeting as very useful.”
“We had a very frank discussion, at the centre stage of which was the need on how to work together in the future,” Mr Lavrov said.