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Originally published January 26, 2009 at 8:50 AM | Page modified January 26, 2009 at 9:18 AM


NATO, Russia mend relations as Afghan war heats up

NATO and Russia discussed new supply routes for alliance troops in Afghanistan in a meeting Monday that helped to mend ties suspended after Russia's August war with Georgia.

Associated Press Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium —

NATO and Russia discussed new supply routes for alliance troops in Afghanistan in a meeting Monday that helped to mend ties suspended after Russia's August war with Georgia.

NATO is urgently seeking an alternative line through Russia to supply the 62,000 Western troops currently in Afghanistan and the 30,000 reinforcements U.S. President Barack Obama intends to deploy this year. Existing routes through Pakistan are becoming precarious amid deteriorating security.

President Dmitry Medvedev has said his government is ready to allow NATO nations to cross Russian territory with cargo intended for coalition forces in Afghanistan.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said after the two-hour meeting that the envoys from Russia and NATO's 26 member states had focused on areas of common interest, "with Afghanistan coming up frequently."

"There was a very positive discussion, a very positive spirit, with no recriminations or any desire to dredge up past disagreements," he said.

Despite sharp disagreements over NATO expansion and U.S. plans for missile defense, Moscow has repeatedly expressed willingness to help the war effort in Afghanistan. It has warned that any return to power by Afghanistan's Taliban extremists would destabilize Central Asia and endanger Russia's own security.

Because Russia does not border Afghanistan, NATO is also negotiating with several Central Asian states to secure transit rights to Afghanistan's northern frontier.

Ties between NATO and a resurgent Russia were suspended following the five-day Georgian war. NATO nations accused Moscow of using disproportionate force to eject Georgian forces that had shelled and occupied the capital of the breakaway province of South Ossetia, which has run its own affairs with Russian support since the early 1990s.

Moscow says its military actions were defensive and in response to Georgian aggression.

As months of angry exchanges subsided, NATO foreign ministers agreed last month to resume high-level contacts gradually. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer last month met Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow's ambassador to the alliance, as a first step.

Monday's talks may pave the way for a formal meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, a consultative panel set up in 2002 to improve relations between the former Cold War foes.

Appathurai said the next step in the re-engagement process probably would be for de Hoop Scheffer to meet Russian leaders. This could happen as early as next month, when a Russian government delegation will attend the annual security conference in Munich, Rogozin said.


"Losing in Afghanistan would lead to a total crisis inside the alliance." Rogozin told Russia's Vesti-24 television station. "OK, maybe this doesn't affect us much, but it could lead to ... extremists of all kinds, primarily the Taliban, coming north, coming toward Russia and taking more and more territory."

Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan rely on the winding, mountainous road from Pakistan's port of Karachi through the Khyber Pass for delivery of up to 75 percent of their fuel, food and other supplies.

Militants have repeatedly attacked supply convoys heading into Afghanistan, where fighting is escalating seven years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime.

A secondary route through Pakistan's western province of Baluchistan also runs through some of the most Taliban-infested regions of Afghanistan.

"NATO needs supplementary routes (through) Central Asia, an area where Russia is czar," Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based think tank, said in a report released Monday. "The moves are aggressive, because Washington needs to lock down a new supply route ... now rather than later."

Several individual NATO nations - including France, Germany and Canada - already use Russia to bring non-lethal supplies to their contingents in Afghanistan. Last week the United States reached a deal with Russia to begin using that route too.


Associated Press writer Steve Gutterman in Moscow contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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