NATO-Russia foreign ministers to open meeting |

NATO-Russia foreign ministers to open meeting

Associated Press Writer

CORFU, Greece (AP) – The foreign ministers of NATO and Russia are set to resume formal military ties when they meet Saturday for the first time since last year’s war between Russia and Georgia.

Relations between the alliance and the Russian military were frozen in the aftermath of that conflict. Although political ties have thawed considerably over the past five months, there have been no formal military contacts since the war.

Saturday’s meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his counterparts from NATO’s 28 member nations comes as President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev prepare to hold a summit next month. Officials said the talks in Corfu will reflect the trend toward improved relations.

“We expect the meeting to go well, there will be no surprises,” Igor Semenenko, counselor at the Russian mission to NATO said.

NATO cut off the ties last August, when Russian forces invaded Georgia after that country’s troops attacked its breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Relations on the political side began to improve after Obama took office, as NATO ambassadors met with Russia’s envoy to the NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve cooperation between the former Cold War foes.

On the military side, Russia cooperated with individual NATO nations such as the U.S., France or Germany by allowing them to use Russia’s rail network to resupply international forces in Afghanistan. The Russian navy also has worked with the warships of various NATO nations during their joint anti-piracy patrols off the Somali coast.

But there have been no formal military ties between the alliance and Russia. Officials on both sides said the foreign ministers are expected to give a go-ahead Saturday for meetings of defense ministers and chiefs of staff that would restart military cooperation in areas of shared interests.

Likely to be discussed are contentious issues such as Georgia and a key European arms-control treaty, but none of them is seen as an obstacle to improving relations.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was expected to meet with Lavrov in Corfu, was forced to cancel those plans after she fell and broke her elbow at the State Department. Deputy Secretary of States James Steinberg will replace her.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has been active in behind-the-scenes efforts to overcome lingering tensions, will be the only head of government attending the meeting apart from the host country’s Costas Karamanlis.

The NATO-Russia meeting will be followed Sunday by a meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose rotating chairmanship Greece currently holds.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said this week she anticipated a positive atmosphere for both the OSCE and NATO-Russia talks. She said the ministers would “brainstorm” a proposal by Russia to hold a summit to discuss all security issues affecting Europe.

Associated Press correspondent Elena Becatoros contributed to this report.