The Washington Times - February 8, 2009, 11:08AM

To the Kremlin’s delight, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has shown no desire to push for NATO expansion or missile defense this weekend.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said today during a meeting with Mr. Biden in Munich that the vice president’s speech yesterday was “very positive.”

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Why would he say that? Two reasons: Mr. Biden said nothing about expanding NATO to include former Soviet Republics Georgia and Ukraine, and gave the Obama administration wiggle room to back out of the Bush administration’s plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe (read more about the speech here).

Both of those issued have infuriated the Kremlin over the past several years and provided some of the context for Russia’s invasion of Georgia last August.

Asked to clarify why he liked Mr. Biden’s speech so much, Mr. Ivanov said, still apparently referring to missile defense, that he had liked a line in Mr. Biden’s speech where the vice president said it was time to “press the reset button.”

Mr. Biden clearly had been talking about taking a fresh approach to U.S.-Russia relations in general, but Mr. Ivanov appeared all to ready to apply the phrase more narrowly to missile defense.

Just prior to his meeting with Mr. Ivanov, Mr. Biden met with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on Sunday.

At the beginning of the meeting, Mr. Biden ducked a question about whether the U.S. supports Georgia’s entry into NATO.

“I’m in favor of Georgia’s continued independence and autonomy. That’s a decision for Georgia to make,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Saturday.

Look for a piece in tomorrow’s paper about how Russia is not the only foreign hostile or semihostile power that is testing the new Obama administration right now.

Here are some articles from last April’s NATO summit (one on Mr. Bush’s speech, one on Russia’s response, one on the result of the summit, one on Mr. Bush’s trip to Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin afterward, and one blog post with some great color), where Mr. Bush unsuccessfully pushed for Georgia and Ukraine to be admitted into NATO’s membership application process. Russia leaned on France and Germany to block the move, using as leverage its control over natural gas pipelines that provide energy to much of Europe.

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times