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Russia willing to help NATO stabilize Afghanistan situation

RIA Novosti

09/02/2007 19:48

SEVILLE, February 9 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is interested in helping NATO forces stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, the defense minister said after an informal Russia-NATO Council meeting.

"We will of course never send our servicemen there, but everything else is open for discussion. This includes our efforts to alleviate Afghanistan's debt to Russia," Sergei Ivanov told journalists on Friday in the southern Spanish city of Seville.

The minister said Afghanistan's current debt to Russia is $10 billion.

Russia will also contribute to the country's social rebuilding and economic development, he said. "The situation in Afghanistan cannot be settled through military means alone," he added.

Ivanov earlier reiterated Moscow's proposal that NATO and a post-Soviet security group should join efforts in tackling the drug threat coming from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has regained its position as the world's top drug producer since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001. Illegal drug production and trade is the only source of income for many in the war-torn southwest Asian nation, and is a major source of financing for Islamist militants.

Ivanov said: "Involving the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] in the process could be considered an additional factor in tackling the Afghan drug threat. But so far we have failed to cooperate in this area."

Two CSTO members, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, share borders with Afghanistan and are major trafficking routes for drug smugglers from the country. Heroin and other drugs from Afghanistan have also flooded Russia and other ex-Soviet states since the 1990s.

The security group, which also comprises Armenia, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, was set up following the collapse of the Soviet Union to deal with terrorist, drug and military threats. Some experts have said it was created as a counterbalance to NATO's eastward expansion and to preserve Russian influence in the region.

Ivanov said international forces deployed in Afghanistan could not control developments in the country, where ongoing violence claimed thousands of lives last year.

"Russia, along with the [anti-terrorism] alliance, is seriously concerned by the continuously deteriorating military and political situation in Afghanistan," the minister said.

"Combining the potentials of the CSTO and NATO working on both sides of the Afghan border, we believe, could yield better results," he said. "Therefore, the invitation to NATO to take part in the CSTO's annual anti-drug operation, Channel, remains in force."

Ivanov blamed delays in more effective joint efforts in the region on the "inertia of old approaches."

The CSTO members have held the operation since 2003. Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Iran, Pakistan, and China participated as observers in 2004 and 2005.

In 2005, according to statistics provided by Russia's federal service for countering drug trafficking, operatives seized about nine metric tons of drugs in the region and uncovered new drug routes from Afghanistan to the U.K. and to Africa via the United Arab Emirates.

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