Russia-US Joint Military Exercise Follows Bilateral Talks

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Amid new signs of warmer relations between the U.S. and Russia, armed forces from the two countries are holding joint military training exercises in and near Moscow this week.

Russia's Military Academy and the U.S. Southern European Task Force and Seventh Army Training Command will participate in the "Torgau-2004" command-post exercises, according to the Russian defense ministry.

The U.S. embassy said the May 17-22 exercise would involve U.S. and Russian forces developing plans to defend an allied third country, performing a peacekeeping mission under the aegis of the U.N.

Emphasis would be placed on combat operations, joint decision-making and operation planning.

The exercise follows a weekend visit by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who delivered a personal letter from President Bush to President Vladimir Putin.

Rice, who also met with senior security and political figures, gave a positive assessment Sunday of bilateral relations, although she offered few details.

Iraq dominated Rice's visit, but she also discussed a wide range of other issues, including terrorism, weapons proliferation, energy, Iran's nuclear program and developments in former Soviet republics -- where Russia and the U.S. are vying for influence -- and in the Middle East.

No substantive details of the talks were released.

On Iraq, Rice told Russian NTV television the U.S. and Russia had a shared interest in
preventing destabilization there.

She expressed hope that Russia would support a new U.N. Security Council resolution
on Iraq, which Washington hoped to draft to set the stage for next month's restoration of Iraqi self-rule.

Russia wants the transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition authority to an interim Iraqi administration to take place as scheduled earlier, on June 30.

Putin, who recently began a second term, is to hold talks with Bush on Iraq and other issues on the sidelines of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the allied D-Day landings in France.

Incidentally, some of Rice's meetings in Moscow were held at Spaso House, the palace-style mansion which serves as residence for American ambassadors.

The elegant building in downtown Moscow has become a contentious issue in bilateral diplomacy.

When a 20-year lease contract was signed in 1985, annual rent was agreed at 72,500 rubles - more than $100,000 at the prevailing exchange rate.

Since then, hyperinflation has eroded the ruble's value. As a result, the U.S. now pays 72.5 rubles ($2.50) a year for renting Spaso House.

Russian officials have for long been returning the rent checks in protest, and Russia's foreign ministry is now demanding $9 million for what it calls years of backdated rent.

There was no indication that the prickly issue was raised during Rice's three-day visit to Moscow.

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