The Russian Interfax news agency has an interview with NATO spokesman, James Appathurai. It is revealing to review some of his answers as they highlight major differences between NATO in Bucharest a year ago, and NATO in Strasbourg in 2009.
Noting that NATO-Russia relations are extremely important to the Alliance, Appathurai is asked about the prospects for Georgia and The Ukraine joining the Alliance, and he answers It could come up. But it is not very likely to be the main topic. .. There is neither controversy nor urgency within NATO with regard to this.
Compare this with statements from last year, when the Bush administration was pressuring Allies to accept the two into NATO. At that time Appathurai was quoted as saying that, when NATO leaders met for the pre-Summit dinner, Enlargement will be at the top of the agenda. (See NATO Monitor for details)
The whole tone of the interview is conciliatory to Russia, emphasising the need for NATO-Russia partnership - for example, in the use of an air corridor to resupply NATO ISAF forces in Afghanistan. A year ago, on the question of enlargement, the NATO Secretary General was telling journalists that:
NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer later said the Russian leader's talks with alliance leaders were "frank and open" and ended on a good note, although there were no major breakthroughs. "It would be wrong to describe it as a clash of views," de Hoop Scheffer said. But he conceded: "It is true that NATO enlargement is a contentious issue. The minds do not exactly meet, to put it mildly."
What a difference a year (and an American election) can make.