(RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called on Russia to cooperate more closely with the Western military alliance in working to bring stability to Afghanistan.
He was speaking to reporters in Moscow today, where he held talks at the Kremlin with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Rasmussen said it's in Russia's own interests to contribute more actively to NATO's mission against the Taliban in Afghanistan because failure there could leave the door open to the spread of Islamic extremism across Central Asia.
It is therefore "essential for Russia that we succeed in Afghanistan," he said.
Medvedev didn't comment on that, but he expressed hope for stronger ties with the alliance.
"I hope your visit to Russia will help make Russian-NATO relations stronger and more productive," Medvedev said.
NATO is seeking to gain broadened Russian cooperation with the U.S. and NATO-led military mission against Taliban insurgents. Before he left Copenhagen on December 15, Rasmussen said he would seek extra noncombat help from Moscow.
He suggested this could come in several forms, including widening the categories of goods allowed ground transit across Russian territory to Afghanistan. At present only nonlethal NATO goods are permitted ground transit, but NATO would like to include military supplies.
NATO is coming to rely increasingly on its transit routes through Central Asia and Russia, as the shorter routes through Pakistan become more subject to insurgent attacks.
Another possibility for extra cooperation lies in Russia sending military and other security personnel to Afghanistan to help train security forces there.
Rasmussen also suggested Russia could send military equipment for the Afghan forces. Reuters today quoted an unnamed NATO official as saying that the alliance would like Moscow to supply such equipment free, as a donation, rather than as an arms sale.
He mentioned helicopters, assault rifles, and artillery as items needed by the Afghans.
Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said last week that Moscow is willing to do "anything" except send troops to Afghanistan.
The Soviet Union fought a bloody 10-year war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and sending Russian combat troops back to Afghanistan is a political impossibility.
Thaw In Relations
In his remarks earlier today, Rasmussen said he sees a "new beginning" in NATO's relations with Russia.
It was expected that he would also discuss the aftermath of the war between Russia and Georgia last year, which caused a temporary deep freeze in relations after the West condemned Russia's military offensive in Georgia.
Russia's proposal for a new security architecture for Europe would also likely be discussed.
Rasmussen was scheduled to meet Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin later today.
with agency reports