U.S. and Russian Military Chiefs Meet
HELSINKI, Finland — The United States and Russia on Tuesday sent their top military officers here for an unannounced meeting to seek common ground and to try to move bilateral relations back on track, American officials said.
The meeting was arranged with great secrecy and was the first time that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had met his counterpart, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, since the Russian was appointed chief of the General Staff this summer.
The two spoke by telephone during the August crisis in which Russian military forces overran areas of the former Soviet republic of Georgia and threatened relations between Moscow and Washington.
American military officers said Tuesday’s session in Helsinki, a city with a rich legacy of hosting numerous Cold War-era negotiations, came at the request of the Russians.
“It is important that we have a dialogue with Russia and sustain a meaningful relationship,” said a senior American military officer.
The officer spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the meeting, held at the Königstedt Manor along the Vantaa River just outside Helsinki.
American officials said they anticipated that the war in Georgia would be high on the list of issues to be discussed.
But other topics also have bruised bilateral relations. The recent agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to host American missile defense sites have brought outrage from the Kremlin despite repeated statements from the United States that the modest system of radars and 10 interceptors poses no threat to the vast Russian nuclear arsenal.
Senior military officers said that the Russians would be reminded that the missile defense system in Europe was being designed to counter a potential threat from Iran, and that Russian territory falls well within the range of Iranian missiles.
Since the Georgia crisis, Admiral Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have spoken in calm, calibrated terms of Russian military decisions and foreign policy. They have challenged the Kremlin to behave better in global affairs but have noted that Russia’s armed forces do not pose a global risk.
Even a series of military exercises in the Western Hemisphere with Venezuela and its firebrand president, Hugo Chavez, have elicited little more than shrugs from Pentagon officials, who note that the air and naval exchanges presented very little that would intimidate the United States.