Russia and NATO member-states should use the potential of the Russia-NATO Council on a broader scale to build real strategic partnership. That was the bottom-line message of yesterday’s meeting in Brussels of foreign ministers of the 28-member North-Atlantic alliance and Russia.
The meeting approved a cooperation plan within the Russia-NATO Council’s framework for next year. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen appeared satisfied with the results. Addressing reporters after the session, Minister Sergei Lavrov said:
"We share a common assessment and common views as regards our practical cooperation in a whole number of avenues, namely that there has been successful progress and concrete results."
Rasmussen, who presided over the meeting, praised bilateral cooperation on Afghanistan as well as on counterterrorism and counter-drug struggle. Russia has trained 2,500 anti-drug officers from Afghanistan, the Central Asia and Pakistan, as well as 30 Afghan helicopter technicians. It has supplied the necessary spare parts for the Afghan Air Force. Finally, Russia and NATO have expanded bilateral agreements on the transit of NATO cargo to and from Afghanistan and launched a joint project to bolster civil aviation security.
Rasmussen praised the above achievements, seeing them as a good basis for the ambitious cooperation agenda that envisages more assistance to the Afghan Air Force, special anti-drug training for Afghan female policemen and service dog training, and a new joint project for the disposal of excess ammunition.
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"These are all valuable projects, which can bring new vigor to the NATO-Russia Council. Because the NATO-Russia Council is a forum for dialogue at all times and on all issues. Our goal is a strategic partnership between NATO and Russia. And we are committed to working as 29 equal partners in the NATO-Russia Council to achieve that goal."
Naturally, the stalemate over NATO’s missile defense shield for Europe, a major stumbling block in Russia-NATO relations, was also among the highlights in Brussels. Bilateral theater missile defense computer exercises conducted in Germany earlier this year confirmed the advantages of a combined Russia-NATO missile defense system proposed by Moscow. The Russian foreign minister told reporters that despite the directly opposing views, the sides had nevertheless agreed to resume consultations on the issue in the nearest future. Russia spelled out its approaches to cooperation on missile defense with emphasis on clear-cut guarantees that the anti-missile shield that is currently being deployed in Europe does not threaten Russia’s strategic potential. It also voiced concern over NATO’s decision to deploy Patriot surface-to-air systems on the Turkish-Syrian border at Ankara’s request. While Moscow regards the move as a step towards involving NATO in the internal conflict in Syria, the alliance argues that it’s a purely defensive measure designed to protect Turkey from possible rocket strikes by Syria.