NATO foreign ministers decided on Tuesday to re-engage with Russia in a "conditional and graduated" manner, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.
"Allies agreed on what I would qualify as a conditional and graduated re-engagement," he told reporters.
He said he has been mandated by the foreign ministers to establish possible political contacts with Russia. The NATO-Russia Council, a mechanism for dialogues on equal footing between Russia and the NATO allies, will meet on an informal basis, he said.
The NATO foreign ministers suspended the NATO-Russia Council at ambassadorial level or above in August after the military conflict between Russia and Georgia.
De Hoop Scheffer clarified that the re-engagement with Russia does not mean that NATO has changed its position on Russia's behavior in Georgia. "The graduated re-engagement does not certainly mean that we do now suddenly agree with the Russians on the disproportionate use of force in August in the Caucusus, on the illegal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (as independent states), on the fact that the Russians are still taking positions that they should not take in that area," said de Hoop Scheffer.
Georgian forces launched a sudden attack on the breakaway region of South Ossetia on Aug. 7, prompting rapid military reaction from Russia, whose forces defeated the Georgian military in just five days and took South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway region of Georgia. Russia later on recognized the two regions as independent states and enhanced its military presence in the two regions.
The NATO chief also took issue with Moscow over Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's threats to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave sandwiched by NATO allies Poland and Lithuania. "It does certainly not mean that we consider it acceptable that we hear voices from Moscow we thought we would not hear any more," he said.
European allies, such as France and Germany, have wanted to improve ties with Russia, given Europe's dependence on Russian energy. NATO's European allies, almost all of which are European Union (EU) member states, also faced the pressure of the EU's decision last month to resume negotiations with Russia on a framework agreement and the bloc's agreement with Russia to hold an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit next summer on pan-European security.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday that NATO's decision to re-engage Russia is a step forward. "There is no other possible solution with this neighbor, with which we are very much linked -- historically and economically. We must be fully aware of their feelings, their ideas and there is no other way but to talk to them," he told reporters.