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Russia Says 'Ice Thawing' With NATO

Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia sees its relations with NATO improving and wants the military alliance to succeed in Afghanistan, to reduce a regional threat, Russia's NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin has said.

Ambassadors from the 26-member alliance will meet in a joint council with Russia on January 26 for the first time since NATO suspended the sessions in protest at what it called Russia's "disproportionate" use of force against Georgia last August.

"The ice is thawing. An informal meeting of the Russia-NATO Council is a de facto resumption of work," Rogozin told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

He said there was no set agenda for the meeting, which, if successful, could be followed by a meeting of foreign ministers in early spring. He also ruled out a Russia-NATO summit taking place this year.

The NATO-Russia Council is the principal forum for cooperation between Moscow and the alliance.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on January 23 that Russia welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to review policy in Afghanistan and is ready to cooperate, including on supply routes for NATO forces.

NATO is anxious to find safe supply routes that would reduce reliance on Pakistan, where Taliban militants have been attacking trucks delivering goods to Western forces in Afghanistan.

General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander running operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, visited four ex-Soviet states near Afghanistan in the past few days to press for new transport routes.

Rogozin said Russian intelligence suggested as much as half of NATO shipments through Pakistan is being stolen or destroyed by the Taliban and said Russia was keen to see NATO succeed there.

"I can responsibly say that in the case of NATO's defeat in Afghanistan, fundamentalists, inspired by this victory, will set their eyes on the north," Rogozin said.

"First they will hit Tajikistan, then they will try to break into Uzbekistan.... If things turn out badly, in about 10 years our boys will have to fight well-armed and well-organized Islamists somewhere in Kazakhstan," Rogozin said.

The Soviet Union fought in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years, withdrawing its troops in 1989. Rogozin ruled out Russia sending troops to Afghanistan but said Russia needed to help NATO forces, acting on the UN mandate.

"We have been there and did not like it. But everything we can do to back the realisation of the UN Security Council's resolution...we need to do," he said.