MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is ready to restore military cooperation with NATO almost two years after relations were frozen during the Georgian war, Russia’s top general was quoted as saying on Friday.
The United States hopes a thaw in ties between Moscow and the Western military bloc could lead to greater cooperation in the war against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
“We are ready again to seek together responses to modern challenges and threats to international security,” General Nikolai Makarov said after talks in Moscow with Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, NATO’s military committee chairman.
In comments contrasting with the harsh anti-NATO rhetoric from Moscow over recent years, Makarov said Russia was ready to work on ways to resolve the “the problems that have piled up.”
The bulk of NATO-Russian military cooperation was frozen after Russia sent troops to crush an August 2008 assault by U.S.-ally Georgia on the Caucasus republic’s Russian-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Russia remains deeply suspicious of its Cold War adversary and views the expansion of the alliance to include former Soviet republics as a direct threat to Russian interests.
But given U.S. President Barack Obama’s “reset” with Russia, the frost in relations with NATO has partially melted with both sides making tentative attempts to resume cooperation.
“We need to get back to a similar pace that we were at before and then go further,” a NATO official in Brussels said on condition of anonymity.
“Bearing in mind the potential, the level of ambition is pretty high. The train, we are hoping, is gathering speed.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has asked Russia for more help in Afghanistan, where the Soviet Union lost 15,000 troops fighting Western-backed mujahideen insurgents before withdrawing in 1989.
Makarov, who is chief of Russia’s armed forces general staff, said that Russia was pursuing a possible deal to supply the helicopters but gave no further details.
“We are working on the question related to the helicopters as they are needed in Afghanistan. So this set of questions is at the stage of being decided,” Makarov said. “The long-term interests of Russia and the alliance coincide in this region.”
He said Russia would continue to provide transit routes to NATO members for cargo and personnel to support the U.S.-led contingent in Afghanistan.
NATO sees more scope for cooperation in logistics, such as air-to-air refueling and heavy-lift air transport, and wants progress next year in a program for swapping air traffic data.
Di Paola said that in the next few months, the Western alliance would focus on preparing a program of joint actions with Russia for 2011.
He said major areas of cooperation would include search and rescue operations at sea, fighting terrorism, and Afghanistan.
Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Mark Heinrich