BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO expects continued cooperation with Russia on Afghanistan, counter-piracy and other operations after the election that returned Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency, its top official said Monday.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he hoped the alliance and Moscow also will be able to move forward on missile defense because "both Russia and NATO would benefit from such cooperation."
NATO says that its planned missile defense program is aimed at potential threats from over 30 nations which have or are acquiring missile technology. But most analysts believe NATO's defense shield is meant to protect the allies from Iran's growing missile arsenal.
Still, Russia has strongly objected to any ballistic missile defenses, fearing they will eventually grow powerful enough to intercept Russian missiles, thus undermining its nuclear deterrent.
Russia and NATO have cooperated closely in Afghanistan, where Russia provides one of the main transit routes for supplies to coalition forces in the landlocked nation and trains Afghan counter-narcotics officials. Their navies have also worked together in suppressing piracy off the Somali coastline.
"The outcome (of the vote) is likely to be continuity in Russia's leadership and Russia's policies," Fogh Rasmussen told reporters. "I would expect continued progress in the cooperation between NATO and Russia."
Fogh Rasmussen said he expected that Putin will attend the NATO summit in Chicago in May if the two sides can reach an agreement on missile defense.
"But ... Chicago will not be the end of the story, because we will continue talks, negotiations with Russia beyond our meeting in Chicago," he said.