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NATO seeks closer Russian ties

NATO's Secretary General is seeking to shore up an often-strained relationship with Russia during a two day visit to the country. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's visit coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Russia-NATO Council.

Russia and NATO disagree on a number of issues, including U.S plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe, NATO's expansion to the east and the some new alliance members' refusal to sign the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

After meeting NATO's Secretary General, Russia's Federation Council Speaker Sergey Mironov said such meetings are an important part of open and frank dialogue.

“We were able to openly discuss the problems between NATO and Russia. As a Member of Parliament, I voiced the concerns of the Russian people that include NATO's expansion to the East and the U.S. plans for their anti-missile defence system in Europe. These issues won't be solved without discussion and frank dialogue in which we not only listen to each other but hear each other as well. And I think it's very important,” the Russian parliamentarian said.

Replying to this, Mr de Hoop Scheffer said NATO's doors are open and it is up to the people to decide whether or not they want their country to join the alliance.

“I think ant a certain stage we'll se further enlargement. With Georgia we have a relationship we call 'intensified dialogue', so we are not yet at the point of discussing membership. After all – in that I agree with Chairman Mironov – it is the ordinary people who finally decide what they want, be it in the Western Balkans – because in the Western Balkans there are also nations who aspire NATO membership – be it in Georgia, be it in Ukraine. I was a Member of Parliament for 16 years in my home nation so I exactly understand what Chairman Mironov means when he speaks about ordinary people,” he said.

Russia sees the possible inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in the alliance as an attempt to encircle and isolate Russia. NATO's Secretary General has previously said that the disagreements will not prevent a close relationship with Russia. His trip will include an international security conference in St. Petersburg, a special Council meeting in Moscow and a meeting with Mr Putin. Russian politicians, ambassadors of the North Atlantic Alliance's states and experts will be taking part in the St. Petersburg's conference.

On Tuesday, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will make his way to the Russian capital where the NATO-Russia Council meeting will be held at the ambassadors' level. Some of the issues that came up at the high-level council meeting that took place at the end of May in Brussels will be discussed there.

It has been 10 years since the “founding act” and five since the NATO-Russia Council was created and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's visit to Russia comes on this double anniversary of the Russia-NATO partnership.

The first significant event in relations between the two sides was June 1994, when Russia joined NATO's Partnership for peace project.

Three years later, Russia and NATO created the joint Council, but Russia stopped its participation in 1999 after NATO started its military operation in the former Yugoslavia.

After Vladimir Putin became Russia's President, relations with the Western Alliance were widened.

During the last ten years, Russia and NATO have developed their co-operation in various spheres, but it has never been an easy dialogue when it comes to the main sticking points.