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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Sober expectations behind Nato summit
Putin, Robertson and Berlusconi
Putin, Robertson and Berlusconi: Self-interest

There was something of a carnival atmosphere at the sprawling Pratica Di Mare air base south-west of Rome.

A canopied dining area, a temporary press centre, and the summit venue itself, a temporary plywood facade styled on the ancient Roman coliseum.

Bush
President Bush: Opportunity for new relations
The manicured gardens, palm trees and plumed paramilitary Carabinieri gave it all an unreal feel: This was like the return of Captain Corelli out of Hollywood!

There was lots of talk about history, of turning away from past misunderstandings and antipathies.

But when all is said and done, it's going to take more than one morning's work to create a real partnership between Nato and Russia.

Old suspicions die hard. The Russian President Vladimir Putin has clearly determined that his country and the Western allies now have sufficient security interests in common to try to forge a new relationship.

But many in his country, not least in the Russian Defence Ministry in Moscow, still view Nato in negative terms.


The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have shuffled the diplomatic pack of cards in an unexpected way

They fear the Alliance's eastward expansion which in all likelihood will soon take in former Soviet territory when one or more of the Baltic Republics are invited to join at a planned Nato summit in November.

Many in Russia wonder why Nato hasn't simply withered away like its old Cold War adversary the Warsaw Pact.

But diplomacy is as much about shaping events as it is simply reacting to them.

And the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last September have shuffled the diplomatic pack of cards in an unexpected way.

security
High security outside the base belied the carnival atmosphere inside
Russia moved swiftly to stand side by side with the United States, offering vital intelligence support and casting its own war in Chechnya as part of the broader struggle against international terrorism.

Certainly there is calculated self-interest here.

But President Putin along with many Western leaders - UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush in the vanguard - clearly saw an opportunity to put Russia/Nato relations on a new footing.

This summit is proof of their determination.

Behind the hyperbole and talk about making history, expectations are more sober and restrained.

Revealing answers

The Nato-Russia Council certainly has an important agenda, dealing initially with matters like terrorism and efforts to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

But the fact that the crisis between India and Pakistan was discussed here over lunch suggests that one day this new relationship could become an important element in crisis management and conflict resolution.

President Vladimir Putin was asked if he had convinced his critics at home of the value of this new deal with Nato.

His answer was revealing.

He said that the Russian people well understood their country had gained nothing from its Cold War confrontation with the rest of the world.

See also:

28 May 02 | Europe
14 May 02 | In Depth
24 May 02 | Europe
14 May 02 | In Depth
27 May 02 | Europe
15 May 02 | Country profiles
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