Nato appeals to Russia for more help in Afghanistan
The head of Nato appealed to Russia for greater help with the war in Afghanistan yesterday as he sought to repair relations between the military alliance and Moscow.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen asked President Medvedev to supply helicopters and prepare pilots for the Afghan air force, and expand training for Afghan police in Russia. It was the first visit by a Nato leader since Russia’s war with Georgia last year caused the most serious rift in relations since the Cold War.
“I do believe that it’s also essential for Russia that we succeed in Afghanistan,” Mr Rasmussen said during the Kremlin talks. “Because if Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for terrorists, then Russia would be among the victims, as terrorists could easily spread from Afghanistan through Central Asia to Russia.”
Mr Medvedev said that Russia and Nato had “many reasons for interaction”. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was at the meeting, said that the President had ordered officials to study the requests and prepare a response.
“We also expect our ideas to be considered by the alliance,” Mr Lavrov added, a reference to Mr Medvedev’s recent proposal for a new pan-European security treaty that Nato has largely ignored.
The Kremlin is anxious to prevent any return to power by the Taleban in Afghanistan. But it is also fearful of being drawn into the conflict after the Soviet Union’s painful experience of fighting a decade-long war in the country before withdrawing in defeat in 1989.
It has provided logistical support to Nato operations and sent $220 million of military aid to the Afghan government, including an air-defence system for Kabul airport. Russia also sold four Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan last month, the country’s first new aircraft for 20 years.
Mr Rasmussen, a former Prime Minister of Denmark, declared that better relations with Russia were a priority after he became Nato’s Secretary-General in August. Mr Medvedev said yesterday that he hoped ties would grow “stronger and more productive”.
Kommersant newspaper reported yesterday that the Nato chief would ask Moscow to allow the alliance to transport weaponry across its territory. A deal agreed in July allows the United States to fly troops and equipment across Russia to Afghanistan, but other states are restricted to sending non-lethal supplies by rail.
Mr Rasmussen met later with Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, who said that he hoped for greater cooperation between Russia and Nato. The Kremlin said before the visit, which continues today (thurs), that the two sides would also discuss Iran’s nuclear programme.
Russia, which is building Iran’s first nuclear power station at Bushehr, is under pressure to join international sanctions in response to fears that Tehran is secretly developing an atomic bomb.