Russia NATO envoy says alliance needs Moscow's help

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s envoy to NATO said on Thursday the Western military alliance’s efforts to rebuild relations with Moscow amounted to an apology and recognition it needs Russian assistance in conflict zones.

NATO’s relations with Russia plunged following August’s Georgia war, but both Moscow and the alliance’s key member, the United States, have sent out conciliatory signals since the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

In a televised exchange of views with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow’s representative at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Dmitry Rogozin, said the initiative to improve ties was coming because the West needs Russian help.

“The fact that they have undertaken the initiative to literally appeal to Russia to restore cooperation in a full format, that is a kind of apology,” Rogozin said.

Cooperation is based around the NATO-Russia Council, an ambassador-level forum, whose activities were halted by NATO last year in protest against Russia’s intervention in Georgia.

“Of course, they do not want to apologize for what happened and what was said about us, but that would be difficult to expect from them, on the whole,” Rogozin said.

NATO’s spokesman last week said relations with Russia are at “an informal level” and would be discussed at an April Summit.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday said Moscow was considering offering military aircraft to help supply NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, in an overture to the new U.S. administration it hopes will be more receptive to its demands.

It followed the weekend comment by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in a speech at a security conference in Munich, that it was time “to press the reset button” on relations with Moscow. The comments were welcomed by Russian officials.

Rogozin told Medvedev that NATO needs Russian help, but did not spell out where he felt it was needed.

“I think they have understood that, without Russia, it is impossible to solve any problem whatsoever in the Euro-Atlantic region and in the areas where they are conducting military operations,” said Rogozin.

Medvedev responded that Russia was interested in “fully fledged, mutually beneficial relations based on equal rights with the North Atlantic alliance.”

Reporting by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Matthew Jones