The talks will spark renewed speculation that the alliance is conceding a special role to Russia in an effort to secure its signature of Partnership for Peace (PFP), the Nato initiative designed to create ties between East Europe and the West. Central and Eastern European nations fear a carve-up of European security is taking place at their expense.
Russian officials will arrive in Brussels today from London to begin talks with Nato officials on a special statement to accompany Russia's signature of PFP. Andrei Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister, is expected in Brussels on Wednesday to sign and, at the same time, a 'summary of conclusions' setting out the new relationship between the two will be published. Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, will meet Mr Kozyrev on Tuesday, and the Foreign Office did not rule out that Douglas Hurd may attend.
US and other alliance ministers have said repeatedly that there could be no give and take with Russia before it signed up for PFP. But both alliance and Russian sources referred to the meetings as 'negotiations', implying the possibility of concessions. Without Russian signature, PFP - a key US initiative - would be largely empty.
The alliance risks appearing to give Russia a seat at Nato's table, though yesterday officials denied Moscow would have any veto.
There are substantial differences between the two sides that must be bridged before next Wednesday in what alliance sources say will be tough talks. Russia's priority is to get affirmation that Nato cannot act unilaterally in European security. Moscow wants the organisation to be part of a wider security structure, headed by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, a largely toothless body that would effectively tie the alliance's hands. Nato rejects this.
Russia also wants recognition of the role of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Russian-dominated body that pulls together former Soviet republics. As part of this it wants it established that Russia has a special responsibility for peace- keeping within the former Soviet Union, in areas such as the Caucusus, where ethnic and political fragmentation has been accompanied by Russian intervention.
Agreement will take the form of a 'summary of conclusions' to be published on Wednesday to accompany signature of PFP. Both sides say the broader document would be 'politically, but not legally binding'. It will thus not be a formal treaty, but will be regarded by both sides as a crucial political document.
All this puts the Central and Eastern European states in a cold sweat. The West again seems to be tying up an agreement on European security without consulting them. Nato has said that any talks will be transparent but alliance sources said yesterday no details would be provided while the talks took place.
The 'broad dialogue' resulting from the talks will include 'consultation' in some areas, implying that Russia's advice will be sought. Nato insists that this will not be the case for decisions on enlarging the alliance, and Russia will not have a veto. The dialogue will simply be 'information-sharing', sources said, but the deal is unlikely to spell out details.
It is politically embarrassing for the alliance to appear to be in the position of making concessions to Moscow. The Russian government will almost certainly try to give the impression that it has won a victory over Nato, ending the bloc's unique role, in order to sell the PFP deal to the Russian parliament.