LISBON (Reuters) - NATO and Russia agreed on Saturday to cooperate on missile defense and other security issues, and hailed a new start in relations strained since Russia’s military intervention in Georgia in 2008.
Russia also agreed at talks in Lisbon to boost its support for the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan by allowing more alliance supplies through its territory and the two sides agreed to establish a fund to maintain helicopters for Afghan forces.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the former Cold War enemies had made a “historic” step forward in putting aside the problems of the past.
“Today marks a fresh start in NATO-Russia relations,” Rasmussen said. “For the first time in history, NATO countries and Russia will be cooperating to defend themselves.”
“Our security is indivisible. We share important interests and face the same threats to our common security.”
Medvedev said a period of strained relations had been overcome and added: “We have large-scale plans, we will be working in all areas, including European missile defense.”
The two sides agreed to revive a project aimed at protecting NATO and Russian armed forces from missile attack that had been suspended after Russia’s Georgia intervention.
They also agreed to conduct a joint study on how Russian could join a new system designed to protect Europe and North America from long-range missiles fired from the Middle East.
This new NATO system will link existing European anti-missile systems to radars and interceptors the United States plans to deploy in the Mediterranean, Romania, Poland and possibly Turkey.
NATO officials say the protective umbrella will be deployed in stages from next year until 2020, when it will be capable of intercepting long-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In the past Russian officials have expressed reservations about the plan, fearing it could negate the strategic value of Russia’s own ballistic missiles.
It was also reluctant to join a program that had defined Iran as a potential missile threat, as had NATO member Turkey. NATO sources said alliance leaders had agreed to drop Iran’s name from the summit statement to secure Turkey’s support.
Despite the warm words, the challenge will now be to see how NATO and Russia can build on Saturday’s talks and turn the success into fruitful cooperation in practice.
Rasmussen said a joint review of 21st century security challenges had concluded that NATO and Russia posed no threat to each other. “That alone draws a clear line between the past and the future of NATO-Russia relations,” he said.
“We have identified the real threats, including terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the spread of missiles that can hit our territory even today.”
General Nikolai Makarov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, said there were good reasons to link the Russian and NATO missile defense systems. “Now there is the technical side — how to join the two systems. It will all depend on the configurations,” he told reporters.
Editing by Jon Boyle