NATO says Russia ties progressing despite WikiLeaks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO said Thursday it was making progress in ties with Russia, despite Moscow’s criticism of alliance plans to defend Baltic states against any Russian threat.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper, citing U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, reported Tuesday that a decision to draft contingency plans to defend the ex-Soviet NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been taken secretly this year at the urging of the United States and Germany.

Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said this week that Moscow was “puzzled” by the information, which pointed to underlying tension between the former Cold War adversaries even though NATO has stated that it does not see Russia as a threat.

The Itar-TASS agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Moscow wanted some answers from NATO.

“We think we are entitled to that,” he said.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he would not comment on leaked classified documents but reiterated that NATO did not consider Russia a threat, or itself pose a threat to Russia.

“On the contrary, we want to develop a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia,” he told reporters.

Rasmussen described a meeting Wednesday of ambassadors of the NATO-Russia Council, which groups the 28 NATO states and Russia, as “very positive and very fruitful.”

He said the two sides had agreed to initiate a joint analysis on developing cooperation in missile defense, and to prepare for a resumption of cooperation in a narrower program to protect troops against missile attack.

“This is a clear demonstration that we want to move forward in our relationship and we want to preserve and maintain the positive spirit from Lisbon,” Rasmussen said.

At a summit in Lisbon last month, NATO and Russia hailed a new start in ties strained by Moscow’s military intervention in Georgia in 2008.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Rogozin repeated Russian concerns about the contingency plans and his hope that the alliance would annul them, while NATO reiterated its commitment to collective defense of its members, NATO diplomats said.

But as well as agreeing to move forward on missile defense, Russia said that a deal reached at Lisbon allowing for expanded transit of supplies through Russian territory for NATO’s mission in Afghanistan would go into effect from January 1, a NATO spokeswoman said.

The two sides also agreed to develop a proposal to establish a trust fund to maintain Russian-built helicopters for the Afghan armed forces, she said.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and by Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow; Editing by Kevin Liffey