MOSCOW (Reuters) - NATO and Russia need to embark on a new relationship, the head of the Western military alliance said on Wednesday on a trip to Moscow to lobby for Russian help in Afghanistan.
The visit by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will pave the way for a summit of the 28-nation alliance in Lisbon on November 19-20. Russian President Dmitry Medevedev has accepted an invitation to attend the meeting, where NATO will work out a new strategic plan.
“The meeting in Lisbon is a real opportunity to turn a new page, to bury the ghosts of the past,” Rasmussen told a news briefing in the Russian capital.
Medvedev has said Russia needs more clarity on its role in European security matters.
NATO has called on Russia to expand supply routes to Afghanistan and provide Afghan soldiers with Russian helicopters and counter-narcotics training. Rasmussen said the issues would be discussed in Lisbon.
“We will hopefully make a decision on enhanced cooperation on counter-narcotics training, a broadened transit agreement and also progress on implementing the helicopter package,” said Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister.
NATO has stressed that cooperation does not mean Russian forces being deployed in Afghanistan. Moscow is still haunted by the defeat of Soviet forces which invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and quit in humiliation a decade later.
It was unclear whether Rasmussen would speak with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, seen as Russia’s key decision maker.
Russian cooperation on Afghanistan would be an important victory for U.S. President Barack Obama, weakened by Tuesday’s mid-term elections in which Republicans captured control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats.
The United States considers NATO cooperation with Russia crucial to Obama’s plans to ‘reset’ relations with Moscow, which sank to a post-Cold War low during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Putin.
Ties between NATO and Russia were similarly strained following Moscow’s brief war with pro-Western Georgia in 2008.
Moscow still views its old adversary NATO with deep suspicion and the Kremlin watched with dismay as NATO expanded toward Russia’s borders by adding former Eastern Bloc countries after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
NATO also seeks to gain Russia’s cooperation on a proposed European missile defense system to counter what it sees as a potential threat from Iran, but Moscow fears this could negate its own strategic arsenal.
Despite assurances from France and Germany last month, Russia has remained cautious toward offers of cooperation on the program, indicating that it wants a bigger say in evaluating missile threats and planning responses.
Russian and U.S. officials last week hailed an unprecedented joint anti-narcotics operation in Afghanistan as a powerful result of efforts to improve strained relations.
Rasmussen said he wanted to see further progress on anti-drugs operations, adding that more would take place in the future. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the operations violate Afghanistan’s sovereignty.
Writing by Thomas Grove, editing by Mark Trevelyan