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World News

Russia says "ice thawing" with NATO: envoy

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia sees its relations with NATO improving and wants the military alliance to succeed in Afghanistan, to reduce a regional threat, Russia’s NATO envoy Dmitry Ragozin said Saturday.

NATO military vehicles and Afghan soldiers patrol a new bridge opened at Bala Morghab in Badghis province in Afghanistan November 30, 2008. REUTERS/Golnar Motevalli

Ambassadors from the 26-member alliance will meet in a joint council with Russia Monday for the first time since NATO suspended the sessions in protest at what it called Russia’s “disproportionate” use of force against Georgia last August.

“The ice is thawing. An informal meeting of the Russia-NATO council is a de-facto resumption of work,” Ragozin told Echo Moskvy radio station.

He said there was no set agenda for the meeting, which, if successful, could be followed by a meeting of foreign ministers in early spring. He also ruled out a Russia-NATO summit taking place this year.

The NATO-Russia Council is the principal forum for cooperation between Moscow and the alliance.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Friday that Russia welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to review policy in Afghanistan and is ready to cooperate, including on supply routes for NATO forces.

NATO is anxious to find safe supply routes that would reduce reliance on Pakistan, where Taliban militants have been attacking trucks delivering goods to Western forces in Afghanistan.

General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander running American operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, visited four ex-Soviet states near Afghanistan in the past few days to press for new transport routes.

Ragozin said Russian intelligence suggested as much as half of NATO shipments through Pakistan is being stolen or destroyed by the Taliban and said Russia was keen to see NATO succeed there.

“I can responsibly say that in the case of NATO’s defeat in Afghanistan, fundamentalists, inspired by this victory, will set their eyes on the north,” Ragozin said.

“First they will hit Tajikistan, then they will try to break into Uzbekistan... If things turn out badly, in about 10 years our boys will have to fight well-armed and well-organised Islamists somewhere in Kazakhstan,” Ragozin said.

The Soviet Union fought in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years, withdrawing its troops in 1989. Ragozin ruled out Russia sending troops to Afghanistan but said Russia needed to help NATO forces, acting on the U.N. mandate.

“We have been there and did not like it. But everything we can do to back the realization of the U.N. Security Council’s resolution ... we need to do,” he said.

Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; editing by Michael Roddy

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