Medvedev is “more optimistic” about Russia-NATO relations after summit

Russia and NATO have traveled down a long path from illusions and mistrust to the development of a “strategic partnership,” the Russian president said.

He described the Russia-NATO summit that ended in Lisbon on Saturday as “an important step in building productive relations.” 

The period of a cooling of relations and the cold period of claims has ended, Medvedev said. Moscow and NATO are developing relations in many areas, but the key ones are the fight against terrorism and missile defense.

Read the full transcript of Medvedev’s media conference in Lisbon. 

In Portugal, Moscow and the Western military alliance have agreed to discuss cooperation in the missile defense area and NATO has officially invited Russia to join the European missile defense shield.

The two sides will also continue the assessment of missile threats, the work that began before the Portugal summit.

Also, the future framework conditions for cooperation in the missile defense area will be considered by defense ministers in June 2011, according to the statement adopted at the meeting. The cooperation will primarily concern theater missile defense.

Earlier, US President Barack Obama said that NATO member states, for the first time, agreed to develop a missile defense shield that is strong enough to cover all of NATO’s European territory and the United States.

Even Europeans do not understand what the missile defense shield will look like and how it will be financed, the Russian president said. According to him, this idea would be valuable only if it is “universal” and not directed at separate theaters of war. So the work will “surely be continued.”

Russia had opposed the plans of former President George Bush’s administration to deploy elements of a US missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. The current US administration scrapped these plans. Russia, in its turn, abandoned the idea of deploying missiles in the western enclave of Kaliningrad.

As for the proposed European shield, “we should consider what it will be,” Medvedev said. In any case, Russia will take part in the project only if it acts as a partner of NATO and has equal rights, “no other way.”

However, if Moscow does not take part in the project, “we will have to defend ourselves,” the president warned. The dialog on this issue will continue, but the results should be “clear” to Russia, he noted.    

Afghanistan is another main area of cooperation. Now the return transit of NATO military cargoes through Russian territory is being discussed, Medvedev said.

“Everything looks pretty good,” the president said, adding that some disagreements remain. They concern, first of all, the events in the North Caucasus in 2008 leading to the emergence of the two new states, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But Russia and NATO will continue discussing the current situation in the region to ensure security, Medvedev said.

There are not so many issues on which Russia and NATO have different views, and they “should not tear our relations apart,” the president stressed. This summit was an important step in strengthening ties and a historic event,” he noted.        

Currently, Medvedev does not see conditions for Russia’s joining NATO. But “everything is changing,” and if the alliance will offer a closer cooperation in the future, Moscow will be ready to discuss different variants. “The potential of these relations has not been exhausted,” the Russian president stressed. According to Medvedev, he is now even “more optimistic” than he was before the summit. 

The next Russia-NATO Council meeting will be held in the US in 2012.

­Sergey Borisov, RT