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15 Dec, 2009 06:43

NATO seeks aid for Afghanistan in Moscow

NATO’s new chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is to arrive in Moscow on Tuesday to seek assistance in Afghanistan and discuss Russia’s proposal for a new European security architecture.

This will be Rasmussen's first visit to Russia as NATO Secretary General since he took up office in August this year.

The trip is seen by many analysts as crucial for rebuilding Moscow-NATO relations, after they were frozen following the conflict in South Ossetia started by Georgia in 2008.

"Rasmussen… referred to the shaping of a new relationship with Russia as one of three priorities in his works as Secretary-General of the Alliance," Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin is quoted as saying by Itar-Tass.

The three-day visit "is one of his [Rasmussen’s] key trips outside Belgium," he said. Russia and the alliance’s common priorities are “to ensure that this trip promotes the establishment of contacts between the alliance and the Russian leadership for the purpose of developing active cooperation."

The alliance’s chief is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. On Wednesday, Rasmussen will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, when the two are expected to discuss Afghanistan, Itar-Tass writes.

Earlier, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said that the alliance expects Russia's wider assistance on Afghanistan, especially with regard to the country's reconstruction.

Meanwhile, according to RIA Novosti, the NATO Secretary General is bringing a list of things to Moscow that the alliance would like to get from Russia. Those include several hundreds of thousands of Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, mortars, pistols, armored personnel carriers, field artillery, AN-32 cargo aircraft and helicopters.

However, the tricky issue in this respect, the agency’s political expert writes, is not the list itself, but how those needs would be satisfied. Some of the alliance’s diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said NATO would very much prefer to get at least part of the Russian weapons for free rather than buying them.

Moscow supports the alliance’s efforts in Afghanistan since it is not in Russia’s interests that Taliban extremists could return to power, destabilizing the security in the region and endangering Russia as well.

Rogozin said earlier that if NATO fails its mission in Afghanistan and leaves the country, neighboring countries, including Russia, will face a catastrophic situation with “Taliban militants and other religious extremists” spreading there.

Another threat Russia faces from Afghanistan is drug trafficking. The country has become the biggest consumer of Afghan heroin, with 21% of the total consumed in the world, according to the latest UN Office on Drugs and Crime report “Addiction, Crime and Insurgency” published on October 21.

Russia has allowed the alliance to use its soil for the overland transit of supplies to the Islamic Republic. However, Moscow has ruled out sending troops to the troubled region.

Among other things that are expected to be discussed during the NATO chief’s visit to the Russian capital is the draft for a new treaty on European security that had earlier been proposed by President Medvedev and was sent to heads of state and international organizations last month. Russia is still awaiting the alliance’s response. So far NATO has not shown much excitement over the proposal and remained skeptical. However, as Rasmussen comes to Moscow to seek aid, it is very much likely that this time the treaty issue will not be avoided, RIA Novosti writes.

Also, the Kremlin objects to further NATO expansion to the east, and especially the long-discussed plans to accept Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance. That is also expected to be on the agenda during Rasmussen’s visit to Russia.

“There is no hidden meaning in the Russian draft – it contains no attempt to appropriate the right of veto on NATO activity,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed earlier. "At the same time we have a right to express our point of view on the enlargement [of NATO] and on the approach of [its] military infrastructure to our borders."