NATO allies met yesterday hoping to calm Russian fears over their missile shield project, but US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton angered Moscow by criticizing its parliamentary elections.
Clinton is joining her 27 alliance counterparts in Brussels for two days of talks that will also touch on the Afghan war amid tensions with Pakistan after a NATO air strike on the Afghan border last month killed 24 Pakistani troops.
They will then meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today to tell him the missile shield will go ahead, but that NATO still wants to negotiate a cooperation deal with Moscow, alliance diplomats said.
A diplomat said NATO wants to “calm things down” after Russia activated a radar warning system in its enclave of Kaliningrad on the EU’s borders last week, days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to deploy missiles there.
“Some of President Medvedev’s recent comments about NATO’s missile defense system reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the system,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen wrote in Russia’s Kommersant newspaper on Tuesday.
The Russian threats “reflect the rhetoric of the past,” Rasmussen said.
While he was pleased that Medvedev did not shut the door on dialogue, Rasmussen indicated that NATO would continue to refuse to provide legal guarantees that the system does not threaten Russia.
Western officials insist that the missile shield is aimed at countering Iran.
NATO and the US have sought to improve ties with Russia since US President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
However, Clinton irked Russia by voicing “serious concerns” about the parliamentary elections, and calling for allegations of fraud and vote-rigging to be investigated.
“As we have seen in many places, and most recently in the Duma elections in Russia, elections that are neither free nor fair have the same effect,” Clinton said in Lithuania on Tuesday.