By Ian Davis, NATO Watch
In an interview with the state-run Rossiya television station broadcast on April 19 (and reported by Reuters), Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that the appointment of former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg could help ties with the West.
Stoltenberg takes over as the new head of NATO in October and Putin said the pair had "very good relations, including personal relations. This is a very serious, responsible person". "But let's see how he will develop relations in his new capacity," he added in an interview for the Russian news show Vesti.
Putin's warms remarks about the incoming NATO head contrasted sharply with his earlier comments on the alliance's outgoing chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Putin repeated an accusation
that the former Danish prime minister had secretly taped and leaked a private conversation between them, an allegation that Rasmussen denies.
"I could not believe my ears and eyes ... He should have at least warned me or at least asked for my permission before publishing these negotiations," Putin said in his annual live chat with the Russian public. "What trust can there be after such incidents," he asked.
Noting Russia-West relations depended on both sides, the president said "I believe there is nothing that could prevent normalization and normal cooperation". Putin did not specify any measures that the West should take to improve relations, but his spokesman on Friday indicated that a lack of respect from the West was a major factor, saying it was treating Russia like a "guilty schoolboy".
Relations between Russia and NATO are at their worst since the Cold War following Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula, a move Putin said last week was partly influenced by NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe. His remarks came two days after talks between Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and the EU in Geneva resulted in an agreement outlining a series of steps
to ease the crisis in Ukraine. However, the peace deal already appears to be unravelling, with Washington and Moscow blaming each other for the deepening crisis.