NATO and Russia today resumed formal relations, which were broken off in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Georgia.

 

The talks were held within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve relations between the former Cold War foes.

“The meeting opened with a shared view that … the time has come to take the next step,” alliance spokesman James Appathurai said. “There was a shared desire to focus on areas which can be productive.” Still, he said, differences remained over NATO’s upcoming exercises in Georgia. Moscow bitterly opposes Georgia’s desire to join NATO and sees next month’s anti-terrorism and peacekeeping exercises as a step in that direction.

“The NATO-Russia Council is not a fair-weather body … it doesn’t mean we always agree on everything,” NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said before the meeting between ambassadors of the alliance’s 28 nations and Russia’s envoy to the organization. But he noted that on issues such as piracy and the war in Afghanistan, Russia and NATO had continued to cooperate closely despite the diplomatic hiatus.

While I suppose acknowledging ongoing talks is slightly preferable than pretending they’re not going on is a step forward, it’s a very small one.  Russia is still ignoring international law with respect to Georgia, a fellow member of the Partnership for Peace and a state that has been repeatedly promised future membership in the Alliance.  Russia is still railing about NATO carrying out an annual exercise because of Georgia’s inclusion.

Then again, the reality is NATO has no stomach — and arguably no interest —  to do anything about the Georgia situation.  So it’s likely best to get past that issue and work with Russia on matters of mutual concern.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.