The Nato summit in Lisbon, described as one of the most important in the history of the alliance, will begin today with the aim of setting a deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan and bringing Russia into the fold.
In an historic development, the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, will join Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy for meetings in which the former Cold War enemy would be asked to help in a wide range of problems from the Afghan war to the nuclear threat posed by rogue states.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary general, said: "We are facing new issues, new challenges. What is decided in Lisbon will define Nato's policy for the next decade. It is one of the most important summits in the history of our alliance." But the scale of difficulties facing Nato in tackling its most pressing crisis, Afghanistan, was highlighted on the eve of the summit.
Western leaders, including Mr Cameron, have been declaring that the combat mission will end in 2014 and this is to be a central part of the Lisbon declaration. But Nato's most senior figure in Afghanistan warned that "eye-watering" levels of violence are expected as foreign troops begin to withdraw and that timeline may not be met.
Mark Sedwill, a former British ambassador to Kabul, said in a candid assessment that 2014 was simply an "inflection point" and although the deadline was "realistic, it was not guaranteed". Mr Sedwill, Nato's civilian head in Afghanistan, works alongside General David Petraeus, the American commander of the military force, and his interpretation of events is seen as reflecting the senior view on the ground.Reuse content