From the Economist: In theory, Russian diplomats accredited to NATO are welcome friends: the reality is murkier. For more than a decade now, Russian officials have been trusted to roam the alliance’s maze-like headquarters in Brussels just like envoys from other “partner countries” such as Sweden, Finland or Malta. In practice, says a diplomat, everyone knows that “the entire Russian mission is [staffed by] spies”. This leads to cat-and-mouse games that range from the serious (in February, an Estonian official was jailed for more than 12 years for selling NATO secrets to Russia) to the comical (guards were posted at the doors of meetings reserved for full NATO members after Russian officials were found hiding their badges and sneaking inside)…

For the past year, Russia has talked vaguely but forcefully of creating a new “European security architecture”. That sounded to many like an attempt to subvert NATO. But these days America seems to be listening, if only to hear what Russia wants. The Obama administration has privately welcomed a new venture by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an American think-tank, which will ask a high-octane clutch of retired Russian, European and American politicians and diplomats to ponder an “inclusive Euro-Atlantic security system” that might answer Russia’s call.

What it may all mean in practice remains a mystery. Senior Russians talk of “legally binding” security guarantees for their country, or of a body like a United Nations Security Council for Europe, in which Russia would have a seat. They suggest a security treaty could be unveiled next year. That is a political non-starter. If Russia wants guarantees that NATO will never attack it, says an east European foreign minister, it can have that “signed and sealed on paper, because we have no intention of attacking them”; but if Russia wants a veto over the defence arrangements of its neighbours, such as the deployment of American bases or missile-defence systems, that would cross a red line.

In any case, it is hard to see how such a discussion can get far without exposing deep European divisions over Russia. (graphic: Peter Schrank/Economist)