NATO has ended Russia’s “time-out,” presumably thinking it has suffered long enough for invading its neighbor.

NATO foreign ministers agreed Thursday to resume high-level formal ties with Russia, suspended last year after Moscow’s military thrust into Georgia.

Russia immediately welcomed the move. “This decision is a step in the right direction,” Russia’s RIA news agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced the decision after Lithuania dropped its objections to work resuming within the NATO-Russia Council, the body that directs cooperation between the two sides on security issues.  “The ministers reached agreement to formally resume the NATO-Russia Council including at ministerial level … as soon as possible after the NATO April summit,” said de Hoop Scheffer.” “Russia is a global player. Not talking to them is not an option,” he added.

But Russia was a global player in August when the suspension was announced.  What’s changed?  Last I checked, Russian troops were still occupying South Ossetia and Abkhazia and looking to stay there for the long hual.  Scheffer’s still SecGen and Sarkozy, Merkel, and Brown still head up Europe’s Big 3.  

The only significant new fact is that Barack Obama is now president of the United States.  Reading between the lines of  Sue Pleming and Ingrid Melander’s report for Reuters, that appears to be the difference:

Earlier U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, attending her first NATO summit, pressed for a fresh start to relations with Moscow. But she said the door to alliance membership must be kept open for ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine. Moscow strongly opposes their membership of the U.S.-led military alliance.

“We can and must find ways to work constructively with Russia where we share areas of common interest, including helping the people of Afghanistan,” said Clinton.  [..]  Clinton and other allies emphasized that differences persisted with Russia, particularly over Georgia. But she said NATO had to find ways to “manage” these differences while also standing up for its principles when security or other interests were at stake. “We should continue to open NATO’s door to European countries such as Georgia and Ukraine and help them meet NATO standards,” Clinton said.

We shall see if this olive branch to Russia is rewarded in any meaningful way.  Thus far, Medvedev and Putin seem not to have budged on any important point.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 


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