NATO, Russia bury 'ghosts of the past'

20th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

NATO and Russia agreed Saturday to jointly examine a missile shield to defend Europe and boost the flow of supplies to the Afghan war, burying a period of tensions between the former Cold War foes.

Welcoming Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to the Lisbon meeting, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen saluted what he said was an historic turning point in the often tense ties between Moscow and the West.

"Today we helped not only bury the ghosts of the past that have haunted us for too long, we exorcised them," Rasmussen told a news conference after the first NATO-Russia summit in more than two years.

"The NATO nations and Russia have today agreed in writing that while we face many security challenges, we pose no threat to each other."

Russia went through a rocky period with the West since its 2008 war with Georgia, a friend of NATO, and tensions with the United States over an earlier missile shield plan.

"A period of very difficult tense relations has been overcome. The Russia-NATO summit took place in a very constructive atmosphere," Medvedev told reporters.

US President Barack Obama hailed the summit as renewal of relations between the 28-nation military alliance and Moscow.

"Now we're resetting the NATO-Russia relationship. We see Russia as a partner, not an adversary and we agree to deepen our cooperation in several critical areas," he told reporters.

At a separate summit the day before, the Western military alliance had agreed to set up an anti-ballistic missile defence system to protect Europe's populations against rogue rocket attacks and invite Russia to cooperate.

The sides agreed to study how cooperation would work, but Medvedev warned Russia would have to be treated as an equal partner if it is to participate.

"Either we participate fully, exchange information, are in charge of solving these or those issues or we do not participate at all," Medvedev said.

Rasmussen said the Russian and European systems would remain separate but cooperate by sharing information.

"By exchanging information we share a bigger, wider picture of the skies above Europe, we get more warning of a threat and we could conceivably even cooperate eventually in shooting down an incoming missile," he said.

General Nikolai Makarov, the Russian armed forces' chief of staff, said there were "grounds to unite our systems so that they work together, jointly solving the same task."

In another major breakthrough, Moscow agreed to allow shipments of non-lethal supplies on Russian railways into and out of Afghanistan -- including, for the first time, of mine-resistant vehicles.

Previous arrangements only allowed equipment to head towards Afghanistan, and some equipment -- such as armoured vehicles -- was not allowed, forcing the alliance to use a more dangerous route through restive Pakistan.

Russia also agreed to set up a trust fund with NATO to pay for 21 Russian helicopters that would be provided to Afghan armed forces.

Medvedev's participation in Lisbon marked the first meeting between a Russian president and the 28-nation alliance since his country's 2008 war with Georgia, a pro-Western former Soviet state that now aspires to join NATO.

"A former military adversary is now clearly a partner," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters.

"It's a turning point in working together that we can clearly call historic. Of course there's still a long road ahead of us, to build security with Russia, but to start on this road has extraordinary importance," she said.

Obama's own so-called "reset" in Washington's relations with Russia faces a major obstacle, however, as the US Senate threatens to delay ratification of a landmark nuclear arms reduction pact.

European allies piled pressure on the American senators, warning that Europe's very security was at risk.

Medvedev called on the US upper-chamber to act in a "responsible" manner, warning that his country would withhold its own ratification until it passes in Washington.

The treaty would restrict each nation to a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads, a cut of about 30 percent from a limit set in 2002.

© 2010 AFP

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