Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to attend NATO's summit in Chicago due to his busy schedule at home, the alliance's top official said Wednesday.
Relations between NATO and Moscow have become increasingly strained over U.S. plans for a missile shield in Europe, putting Putin's attendance in doubt.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he had spoken to Putin, who is scheduled to be inaugurated as Russian president shortly before the May 20-21 meeting, and that they "agreed that the timing is difficult because Russia has a very busy domestic political calendar."
However, Putin will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama at a Group of Eight meeting of leading industrialized nations summit at Camp David, Maryland, just before the NATO summit.
Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that a bilateral meeting would be held as soon as possible after Putin's inauguration on May 7, and that Russia would attend a meeting of NATO's foreign ministers in Brussels on April 18.
"That shows that we are all committed to dialogue and to practical cooperation, and this will continue until Chicago and it will continue after Chicago, because our relationship with Russia isn't just about one day or one meeting, it's about the long term," he said.
NATO maintains that its missile shield is aimed at potential threats from nations that have, or are acquiring, missile technology. But Moscow has objected, fearing it will eventually grow powerful enough to intercept Russian missiles, thus undermining its nuclear deterrent.
It has generally been assumed that Putin would not come to Chicago because of this disagreement.
Despite their differences NATO and Russia have cooperated closely in the war in Afghanistan and in other missions. Their navies also have worked together in suppressing piracy off the Somali coastline, and there has been growing cooperation in other areas such preventing terrorist attacks.
Russia has continued to provide one of the main transit routes for supplies to coalition forces in landlocked Afghanistan. The importance of the overland link from Europe has grown significantly since Pakistan partially blocked NATO supplies from crossing its territory following an alliance airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani border troops in November.
Last month, Moscow unveiled plans to permit the U.S. and other NATO nations to use a Russian air base in the city of Ulyanovsk on the Volga River, as a hub for their air bridge to Afghanistan. It would be the first time alliance members have been allowed to set up a logistics facility for troops and cargo on Russian territory.
Fogh Rasmussen was speaking after a meeting with Montenegro's Prime Minister Igor Luksic. Montenegro had hoped to be invited to become NATO's 29th member at the summit, but enlargement of the alliance is not on the meeting's agenda.
Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov also contributed to this report from Moscow.