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Russia says NATO needs its help on Afghanistan

Posted by seumasach on August 22, 2008


Oleg Shchedrov


21st August, 2008

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Russia’s foreign minister told NATO on Thursday that both sides benefited from joint cooperation and he pointedly raised the issue of Russian transit support for Alliance forces in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his comments after Norway and two Baltic members of NATO, Estonia and Latvia, said that Moscow had told them it was suspending military cooperation over the crisis in Georgia.

NATO subsequently confirmed that Russia had informed it of the step, which emerged after the U.S.-led alliance agreed on Tuesday to freeze regular business with Russia until Moscow had withdrawn its troops from Georgia in line with a peace deal.

Lavrov, speaking to reporters in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, said: “I can only say that Russia needs cooperation with NATO no more than NATO needs Russia.”

“The fate of NATO is being decided in Afghanistan,” he said.

“After the famous NATO meeting (when the alliance froze contacts with Russia), some leading alliance officials were whispering in my ears: ‘You are not going to halt the Afghanistan transit, are you?'”, he added.

He said Russia was not “going to shut the doors” on cooperation with NATO. Ties between Moscow and the alliance are managed through a forum called the NATO-Russia Council.

But he went on: “It all depends on NATO priorities: if they prefer to support the bankrupt Saakashvili regime to partnership with Russia, that will not be our fault.”

He was referring to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili — a hate-figure in Moscow since Georgian forces tried to take back its pro-Moscow region of South Ossetia on August 7, sparking Russian military intervention.

A NATO spokeswoman in Brussels said the alliance took note of the Russian move and added that she had no information as to whether it would affect the transit agreement for non-lethal equipment through Russia for use in the Afghan war.

In Tallinn, a spokesman for Estonia’s Defence Ministry said it had been informed by letter that Russia had decided on a temporary suspension of military cooperation with NATO states.

The spokesman said the note, consisting of one sentence, had no extra details or an indication of a timescale.

In Latvia, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry said his nation had also received such a note. Both Latvia and Estonia said their countries had no military cooperation with Russia that would be affected by such a suspension.

On Wednesday, Norway, another NATO member, reported receiving similar notification from the Russians.

(Additional reporting by David Mardiste in Tallinn, Patrick Lannin in Riga and Mark John in Brussels)

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