MOSCOW – Russia on Monday welcomed the new NATO chief's call for better ties, but said it's largely up to the alliance to make it happen.
Moscow wants NATO to listen to its concerns and hold serious discussions on the Kremlin's proposal for an overarching new European security treaty, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said.
Last week, President Barack Obama pleased the Kremlin by scrapping plans for a missile shield in two former Soviet satellites that are now NATO members. But Nesterenko's remarks served as a reminder that disagreements on other major issues — such as NATO expansion and the status of Georgia after last year's war with Russia — still divide the Cold War foes.
Nesterenko was responding to an opened-armed gesture from NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who followed up on Obama's decision by urging a reconsideration of NATO-Russia relations and saying NATO, Russia and the U.S. should explore the possibility of linking missile defense systems.
Reacting to Rasmussen's remarks, Russia noted "the readiness he declared for stepping up Russia-NATO relations," Nesterenko said in a statement. But he suggested the alliance must do more to earn Russia's trust and remove its concerns.
"We are realists," he said, adding that "further prospects for cooperation will depend first of all on the general backdrop of relations with the alliance, the restoration of trust, readiness to take into account Russia's concerns."
It will also hinge on "the vector of NATO's further evolution and the goals and tasks the organization sets for itself," he said — hinting that NATO expansion into Ukraine or Georgia could ruin hopes for improved ties.
Nesterenko put in an insistent pitch for serious NATO consideration of President Dmitry Medvedev's proposal for a security treaty that would encompass territory from North America to Asia and include both NATO members and ex-Soviet republics. The message: If NATO really wants to cooperate with Russia, why not join it in a binding new pact that would span Cold War dividing lines.
"What's really needed today is the development of a transparent and serious dialogue about strategic security," he said. "We are counting on a detailed discussion ... of President Medvedev's initiative on adapting the architecture of European security to modern realities."
Western nations have reacted cautiously to the Russian initiative, saying politely that they want to hear more but emphasizing that existing arrangements — including NATO — are effective and should not be replaced.