Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin on Wednesday described NATO as a "cold war era relic" and expressed surprise at the continued existence of the western military alliance even after the end of the cold war.
"NATO is a Cold War era relic. It was created in times of a bi-polar system of international relations. But today's situation is different and it's not clear what an organization like NATO is for," Russia's official Ria Navosti news agency quoted Putin as saying in his last address to parliament as prime minister. Putin is due for his inauguration as president next month.
Nevertheless, Putin, who will be inaugurated for a six-year presidential term on May 7, defended Kremlin's decision to support NATO's ongoing mission in Afghanistan by allowing the western alliance to use a a Russian airport as a supply hub for its Afghan mission.
Dismissing fears that NATO's use of the Ulyanovsk airport for transiting military cargo to and from Afghanistan would pose a threat to Russia's security, Putin insisted that NATO would only be allowed to use the site as an air military cargo transit and not a military base.
"This is not a base at all...it's a site for air military cargo transit. Therefore I assure you that nothing unusual, not corresponding to our national interests, is happening there. On the contrary, everything that is being done in this sphere fully corresponds to the national interests of our people," he said.
Stressing that a stable Afghanistan was in Russia's own national interest, Putin said Russia needed to help NATO "stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, or we will have to do it ourselves." He said Moscow was not interested in sending troops "to fight on Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan."
Russia has been allowing NATO to use its territory for transiting Afghanistan-bound supplies since 2009. Further, Moscow agreed last year to allow NATO route its supplies from Afghanistan though Russia as the alliance is preparing to pull out its troops from Afghanistan by 2014.
Using Russian territory for routing its supplies to and from Afghanistan has become particularly important to the NATO as Islamabad has partially blocked supply routes passing though Pakistan after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a NATO airstrike in November.
The developments comes amidst strained relations between Russia and the United States as well NATO over the proposed deployment of a missile shield system in Eastern Europe. The US and NATO maintain that the planned missile shield is aimed to protect the region from possible missile attacks from rogue countries like Iran, and insist that it is not aimed at Russia.
Nevertheless, Moscow argues that the planned missile shield poses a threat to Russia and has demanded written, legally binding guarantees that the US-backed European missile defense program will not be directed against it. Russia has also warned that the missile system will destabilize eastern Europe and trigger a new arms race.
by RTT Staff Writer
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