ANOTHER CHILL IN RELATIONS

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A setback in Russia-NATO relations

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will not attend the minister-level Russia-NATO Council meeting scheduled for May 19 in Brussels. Neither the NATO exercises in Georgia nor the expulsion of two Russian diplomats are facilitating the development of Russia-NATO relations.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will not attend the minister-level Russia-NATO Council meeting scheduled for May 19 in Brussels. A Foreign Ministry spokesman told us that since Lavrov’s visit to Brussels “has not been officially announced,” this cannot be regarded as a demonstrative refusal. The spokesman added, however, that “the general background is unfavorable”: neither the NATO exercises in Georgia nor the expulsion of two Russian diplomats are facilitating the development of Russia-NATO relations.

The Russia-NATO Council was suspended in August 2008 after the conflict in South Ossetia. A NATO summit in early April decided to reactivate the Council; this decision was followed by a meeting at the level of ambassadors.

It was reported on April 30 that NATO has decided to expel two Russian diplomats – Viktor Kochukov and Vasili Chizhov (son of Vladimir Chizhov, Russian envoy to the European Union) – as a retaliatory measure for espionage for Russia by Estonian Defense Ministry official Herman Simm, convicted in February.

Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s permanent envoy at NATO, told us that Lavrov’s refusal to participate in the Russia-NATO Council meeting is a response not only to the expulsion of the Russian diplomats, but also to NATO’s military exercises in Georgia (starting May 6). It was reported on May 5 that Armenia has declined an invitation to participate in these exercises; five other countries, including Kazakhstan and Moldova, had declined earlier. According to Rogozin, these refusals may be regarded as an achievement for Russian diplomacy.

A high-ranking Foreign Ministry source told the Interfax news agency that there would be an announcement on May 6 about diplomatic accreditation being revoked for Isabelle Francois, head of NATO’s information office in Moscow, and a Canadian diplomat from the same office.

Political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov says that this new chill in Russia-NATO relations is unlikely to last longer than two months – and it won’t affect negotiations on cargo transit across Russia to Afghanistan, since those are bilateral talks between NATO states and Russia.

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