Mullen Confers With Russian Counterpart

Cars carrying members of the American delegation leave an isolated manor house in Vantaa, outside Helsinki, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008. American and Russian military leaders met at the manor house in Finland on Tuesday for unannounced talks, the highest-level military meeting between the two countries since Russia's war with U.S. ally Georgia in August. No details of the negotiations were given on Tuesday. (AP Photo/LEHTIKUVA/Matti Bjorkman)
Cars carrying members of the American delegation leave an isolated manor house in Vantaa, outside Helsinki, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008. American and Russian military leaders met at the manor house in Finland on Tuesday for unannounced talks, the highest-level military meeting between the two countries since Russia's war with U.S. ally Georgia in August. No details of the negotiations were given on Tuesday. (AP Photo/LEHTIKUVA/Matti Bjorkman) (Matti Bjorkman - AP)
By Ann Scott Tyson and Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The two top officers of the U.S. and Russian armed forces met for unannounced consultations Tuesday in Finland, at a time of heightened tensions between their countries due to Russia's invasion of Georgia and a U.S. plan to build a missile defense system in Europe.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sat down with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, head of the Russian general staff, to discuss Georgia, Afghanistan, naval operations in the Black Sea and other issues, according to a spokesman for Mullen.

The tone of the meeting was "generally positive," said the spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby. "They did not agree on every issue, nor did the chairman expect them to. The relationship between our two militaries has certainly been changed by events in Georgia."

"The chairman came away feeling it was a very good exchange -- substantive -- and that the dialogue they had was honest and open," Kirby said. "He believes there was value simply in the act of sitting down together," he said, adding that the two military chiefs agreed to continue the dialogue. This was their first face-to-face meeting.

Relations deteriorated early this year as the United States pressed ahead with plans to build missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia roundly protested, saying the system would undermine its security. The United States says it would be directed only against small powers such as Iran and be useless against Russia's huge arsenal of missiles.

Russia's August invasion of its southern neighbor Georgia after that country's forces tried to retake a pro-Russian separatist zone put further strain on the U.S. relationship. After the cease-fire, the United States sent naval vessels into the Black Sea to deliver humanitarian supplies.

Bordering on Russia, Finland frequently hosted U.S.-Soviet meetings during the Cold War. According to the Associated Press, Adm. Juhani Kaskeala, the head of Finland's defense forces, organized the meeting at an isolated manor house outside Helsinki, the capital.

Returning to Moscow after the meeting, Makarov told reporters that "the conversation was totally open, honest and substantive." He added that both sides agreed to "make further efforts" to cooperate on problems such as terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the Interfax news agency reported.

Makarov said that the two men also exchanged views on "the reasons which led to the cooling of relations between Russia and the United States" and that Mullen left with a better understanding of Russia's position.

"We agreed that on fundamental military issues, we will periodically hold dialogues by phone and, when necessary, at personal meetings that I think will be held on a systemic and routine basis," he said.

Pan reported from Moscow.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company