MOSCOW (AP) — Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called NATO a "relic of the Cold War era," but said Russia should nonetheless continue supporting the alliance's mission in Afghanistan.
Putin, who won a third presidential term last month, defended the government's intention to offer NATO a new logistics facility on Russian territory to facilitate transit of military cargo to and from Afghanistan.
"It's in our national interests to help maintain stability in Afghanistan," Putin told lawmakers who voiced concerns that a NATO facility on Russian soil would threaten its security.
Moscow has provided the U.S. and other NATO member states with air corridors and railway routes for carrying supplies to and from landlocked Afghanistan — the link that has become particularly important since Pakistan partially blocked NATO supplies from crossing its territory following an alliance airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani border troops in November.
The new deal, which is now being considered by the Russian government, would for the first time allow alliance members to set up a logistics facility in the Volga River city of Ulyanovsk for troops and cargo on Russian territory.
Putin said that while Russia sees the alliance as a Cold War relic and has been critical of some of its actions, it views NATO's efforts in Afghanistan as crucial for its own security interests, helping prevent instability from spreading into ex-Soviet Central Asia.
"We are interested in the situation there remaining under control, and we don't want our troops to fight on Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan," Putin said. "We need to help them stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, or we will have to do it ourselves."
He said the new logistics facility wouldn't be a military base, simply offering NATO a stopover for air transit.
Relations between Russia, the United States and NATO have soured over U.S.-led NATO missile defense plan that Washington says is aimed at deflecting a potential Iranian threat. Moscow fears it will eventually become powerful enough to undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent.
But despite their differences, Russia has also cooperated with the alliance in suppressing piracy off the Somali coastline and in such areas as fighting terror and search and rescue at sea.
- Vladimir Putin