NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the alliance's upcoming Lisbon summit "will represent a new start in the relationship between NATO and Russia."
In an interview
on October 26, Rasmussen said the November 19-20 summit, which will be attended by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, would be "definitely" the most important event for cooperation since the NATO-Russia Council was established in 2002.
He said Russia and the United States were already in talks about the supply of some 20 Russian helicopters for use in Afghanistan by Afghan security forces. Apart from the helicopters, other proposals for cooperation will be discussed in Lisbon.
According to a report
in the British daily "The Guardian," they include the contribution of Russian crews to train Afghan pilots, possible Russian assistance in training Afghan national security forces, increased cooperation on counternarcotics, counterterrorism and border security, and improved transit and supply routes for NATO forces.
"The Guardian" quoted a Western diplomat as saying that new understandings were expected on improved air and land supply and transit arrangements via Central Asian states such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
This is increasingly important given the rising number of insurgent attacks on NATO supply routes through Pakistan and recent tensions between the Pakistani government and NATO that led to the temporary closure of a key crossing point in the Khyber Pass late last month.
Russia presently allows some movements of supplies along its territory but restricts the types of weaponry being moved. NATO hopes to see this restriction removed.
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has said that Moscow wants to help the West in Afghanistan. A withdrawal of alliance and coalition forces from the country would alter the strategic situation in Central Asia in unimaginable ways, he said.
But there could be some reciprocal demands by the Russian side, in return for its assistance in Afghanistan. The October 27 edition of the Russian daily "Kommersant" says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has already asked for guarantees from NATO that the alliance would not deploy significant forces
on the territory of new alliance member states. "Kommersant" says Moscow has presented the alliance with a detailed draft agreement on the issue, which will be discussed when the NATO secretary general travels to Russia in early November.
There has been no official reaction from NATO.
The Soviet Union was involved in a disastrous nine-year-long war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1988 that saw the deaths of 14,000 soldiers and ended in a humiliating defeat.
Having burned its fingers so badly, Russia is not about to become involved again on the ground in Afghanistan. A NATO spokesman in Brussels says there is no question of Russian troops re-entering Afghanistan. All Russia's cooperative activities will reportedly take place outside the country.
The Lisbon summit is also expected to consider whether NATO and Russia could begin cooperating on the creation of a missile defense shield in Europe to protect against potential threats from a nation like Iran. written by Breffni O'Rourke, with agency reports