Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on Tuesday to attend next month's NATO summit and said Moscow was prepared to discuss the Alliance's proposed anti-missile shield.
Medvedev was speaking in the elegant French seaside resort of Deauville after talks with French and German leaders that were partly overshadowed by news of a bloody separatist attack in the Russian republic of Chechnya.
President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted Medvedev in order to promote closer security cooperation between Moscow and its former Cold War foes in the West in the run up to NATO's Lisbon summit on November 19.
"We spoke about cooperation between Russia and NATO. It is an important conversation, meaningful and useful," Medvedev said after the talks. "Here I would like to announce that I will go to the Russia-NATO summit."
Medvedev has long promoted what he thinks should be a common European security strategy uniting the continent once split between the West and the Soviet bloc under a joint strategic vision.
France, Germany and other Western powers have agreed to discuss this, but also remain tied to the NATO vision of a Euro-Atlantic pact including the United States and Canada, with a NATO-Russia council attached to it.
One of the recent disputes that has cast a chill over the slowly warming relations has been that of missile defence: Moscow has fiercely opposed US plans to deploy an anti-missile system in eastern Europe.
Washington insists the missile shield is designed to fend off threats from rogue states like Iran and is not aimed at undermining Russia's missile force as a deterrent. It has now promised to modify its plans.
In Lisbon, NATO will discuss setting up a joint alliance missile shield and has invited Russia to take part in it. Medvedev gave a cautious welcome to this idea, but said Moscow needed to hear more details.
"We discussed it yesterday. We heard what is being told us in relation to the idea of Russia joining global missile defence," Medvedev said, referring to his talks with Sarkozy and Merkel in the Channel resort of Deauville.
"We are looking at the idea of this proposal right now. But I think NATO itself should decide how it sees Russia joining this system, what it will give, in what way agreements may be reached and how to work further.
"Only after examining this proposal will we be able to give an answer as to how we will work further in relation to European missile defence."
Merkel welcomed Medvedev's decision to attend, saying: "We should be able to put the relationship between Russia and NATO on solid foundations."
In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed Medvedev's decision to attend the Lisbon side meeting.
"The summit will be an important opportunity to deepen and broaden the political dialogue and practical cooperation between the NATO-Russia Council members, to enhance our shared security," he said.
The joint statement issued by the three leaders vowed to work to build both a new EU-Russia agreement and to strengthen the NATO-Russia council, while "working jointly on security in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian area."
While the leaders meeting in Deauville were upbeat, an attack back on Medvedev's home soil in southern Russia cast a pall over the event.
Militants stormed the parliament in the conflict-torn region of Chechnya, holding deputies hostage and gunning down three people, before being killed in a bloody intervention by government security forces.
None of the three leaders, keen to put a positive gloss on the talks, addressed the Chechen issue in the closing remarks and press conference.
by Anna Smolchenko
(c) 2010 AFP