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Afghanistan To Top NATO Chief's Fence-Mending Visit To Russia

Russia -- Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) meets with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Moscow on December 16

Russia -- Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) meets with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Moscow on December 16

(RFE/RL) -- Anders Fogh Rasmussen is in Russia for his first visit to that country since being appointed NATO chief in August.

It is widely seen as a fence-mending visit, during which Rasmussen will seek a rapprochement with Moscow amid badly frayed ties following last year's war in Georgia.

NATO's search for support in Afghanistan is likely to top the agenda of his talks with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today.

The Western military alliance has been frustrated by Russia's lack of assistance to its troubled operation in Afghanistan, despite Moscow recently pledging more help in battling the Taliban.

"Cooperation with the alliance is now in Russia's interests, and the alliance, too, would like to work with Russia, mainly in Afghanistan," says Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst.

"This joint desire to cooperate will contribute to improving ties, but no breakthroughs should be expected from this visit."

'Anything But Troops'

Moscow is aware that a NATO failure in Afghanistan could lead to a spread of Islamist insurgency in Central Asia.

But it has refused to send soldiers to Afghanistan due to its history in that country, where the Soviet Union waged a devastating 10-year war before withdrawing in 1989. A decision to send troops back could upset many in Russia.

Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said last week that his country was willing to contribute to the alliance's efforts by doing "anything, except sending our troops."

NATO has asked Russia to aid efforts in other ways, including the provision of military equipment such as Kalashnikov assault rifles to the Afghan National Army.

The alliance would also like a transit agreement with Russia to be expanded to include military hardware en route to Afghanistan, and to secure overflight rights for military goods.

Rasmussen and his Russian hosts are also expected to discuss plans for missile defense, as well as Russia's proposals for a new European security structure.

The talks are also likely to touch on the brief war between Russia and Georgia last year, which caused a freezing of relations after the West condemned Russia's military offensive in Georgia.

Georgia's efforts to join NATO have angered Moscow, although the alliance has yet to make any firm commitment.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report. With agency reports