Russia and the United States, former Cold War enemies, will reach a new level of cooperation this week, thanks in part to soldiers based in Europe.

Elements from the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) and 7th Army Training Command have traveled to Moscow to take part in a command post exercise that’s never been attempted between the two countries.

“The interaction we’ve had with our counterparts on the Russian side clearly indicates that they’re viewing this as a significant event,” said Col. Blair Ross, the SETAF chief of staff who will assume a similar role for the combined forces during the exercise, dubbed Torgau 2004. Torgau is the name of the German city where Russian and American forces linked up during World War II.

The exercise, which started Monday, will involve a relatively small number of troops from each country. They will work on a combined staff to develop a plan to jointly defend a fictional third country from an attack.

In recent years, Russian and American forces have worked together on peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, but largely as separate entities.

Russian Gen. Col. V.I. Popov, commandant of the Russian Combined Arms Academy, will direct the exercise. Brig. Gen. Jason Kamiya, newly appointed SETAF commander, will be his deputy.

The concept is familiar territory for Kamiya, whose last assignment was commander of the Joint Readiness Training Center.

SETAF, based in Vicenza, Italy, has a good deal of experience recently working with military units from other countries. Last year, the headquarters staff led peacekeeping efforts in Liberia. SETAF units also have participated with Polish and Hungarian troops in exercises in recent years. And SETAF’s structure also includes active-duty Italian personnel.

But Torgau 2004 will mark the first time that many of the soldiers have worked so closely with Russians. Ross and others from the command have visited the country during planning stages for the exercise.

“Our interactions with our Russian army counterparts have been very positive,” he said, adding that his initial impression of Russian forces was better than many media portrayals would indicate. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia’s economic woes have led to a shortage of funding for its military.

But Ross said the Americans expect they’ll be working with highly trained, professional soldiers during the exercise. And they’ll hope to establish good relationships that might prove useful.

“So we have a foundation for conducting operations, should they ever happen in the future,” Ross said.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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