Bush hints at defence co-operation with Russia - at last

Russian bases could be used as part of the U.S. global missile defence system, said George W. Bush in Romania ahead of the NATO summit. But he re-affirmed his commitment to building anti-missile bases in Eastern Europe. He also urged NATO to back the memb

Bush invited Moscow to join the global security effort “to defend Russia, Europe and the U.S. against an emerging threat that could affect us all.”

“President Putin raised the possibility of using radar facilities in Azerbaijan and southern Russia. We believe these sites could be included as part of a wider threat monitoring system. It could lead to an unprecedented level of strategic co-operation between Russia and the NATO alliance,” Bush said.

U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile defence system in Europe are among issues placing NATO in direct confrontation with Russia. Other stumbling blocks include Russia's moratorium on the CFE treaty and Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence.

Russia opposes NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, saying it threatens its borders.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has expressed hope that the NATO summit in Romania will set the tone for constructive dialogue between Russia and the Alliance. He also commented on Ukraine’s and Georgia’s desire to join NATO.

“Ukraine and Georgia have both expressed their aspiration to be parts of the Euro-Atlantic family and part of NATO. Whatever decision we take tomorrow on their request to be granted the Membership Action Plan, our message will be positive and unambiguous. Yes, both the countries have their place in Euro-Atlantic integration, the door is open, and provided they meet our standards one day they’ll pass through it if they so wish.”

In order to join the alliance, a country has to satisfy at least two major criteria – territorial integrity and consensus among political leaders.

Meanwhile, support for joining NATO is patchy among Ukraine’s political elite, and public support is even lower. Around 60 per cent of the population is against joining the Atlantic alliance, according to polls.

Georgia voted to join the alliance in January, but Tbilisi didn’t take into account the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – they weren’t even given the opportunity to vote.

With all the political changes in Russia, the future of NATO-Russian relations will also be up for discussion.

Russian President Putin will arrive in Bucharest on Thursday to take part in the Russia-NATO Council session.

But not all the experts think that Russia should worry about NATO’s plans for Ukraine and Georgia. 

“NATO's expansion contains no military threat, because this organisation at the moment is very inefficient. Its actions in Afghanistan have shown it's in a very difficult situation right now. So if someone thinks that Ukraine's and Georgia's accession to NATO will make it stronger and more efficient – they are wrong,” Aleksandr Sharavin, Director of theInstitute of Military and Political Analysis, said.