The US blinked in two symbolic stare-downs with Russia, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Moscow was not back in global good graces four months after it invaded a small, US-backed neighbor.
Rice and other NATO foreign ministers agreed on Tuesday to gradually resume talks with Russia that were frozen after the brief war in Georgia. As expected, the US also bowed to European and Russian opposition and agreed to shelve any quick plans to invite Georgia and Ukraine into the NATO alliance.
The chief US diplomat, summing up her last session with NATO colleagues, said the alliance was unified in rejecting the Russian invasion and insisted that Moscow had paid a price.
She and other US officials minimized differences with Europe over the best strategy to deal with Russian ambitions in Europe.
“I don’t think this is in any way business as usual,” Rice told reporters.
Rice then gave some bullet points. Russia, she said, had failed to topple the Georgian government or flatten its economy and failed to rally mainstream support for its position that two breakaway Georgian regions deserve recognition as independent states.
Although Russian forces remain in those regions, despite objections from the US and other countries, Russia should not assume the world is complacent, Rice said.
“What it’s gotten Russia is a lot of scrutiny,” she said.
The NATO-Russia talks will resume at a low level, the NATO ministers said.
Immediately after Russian forces moved on Georgia, Washington led the initiative to freeze the NATO-Russia Council.
The forum had provided a setting for regular meetings of Russian and alliance foreign ministers. Several European allies are pushing for a return to talks with Moscow.
As the US wanted, the ministers restated a decision taken in April that Georgia and Ukraine could one day join NATO despite Russia’s strong opposition.
They agreed to step up military and political assistance to help the two countries prepare, but stopped short of granting them a formal “membership action plan” considered a key step toward joining the Western alliance.
That kicks the largest questions about the US approach to Russia to the incoming administration of president-elect Barack Obama.