Russia's foreign minister has expressed concerns about NATO plans to withdraw from Afghanistan. Sergei Lavrov also asked NATO for guarantees about its plans for a missile shield.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has expressed concern about plans by the Western military alliance NATO to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
"As long as Afghanistan is not able to ensure by itself the security in the country, the artificial timelines of withdrawal are not correct and they should not be set this way," Lavrov told a press conference following talks with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday.
He also said that a number of countries in the region shared Russia's concerns about the planned pullout.
"Our Central Asian partners are also concerned about that, China and many other states ask the same questions," Lavrov said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen rejected the idea that the planned timing of the withdrawal was arbitrary in any way.
"It's definitely not artificial," Rasmussen said. "It has been carefully examined, been carefully discussed with our Afghan partners and agreed."
He also noted that NATO would continue to support Afghan security forces through training and in an advisory role beyond 2014 and took the opportunity to ask Moscow to support those efforts.
"We would welcome financial contributions from Russia, China and other countries to ensure (a) sustainable Afghan security force beyond 2014," Rasmussen said.
Tensions over NATO shield plans
At least as contentious for the Kremlin are NATO plans to build a missile defense shield, which US officials have said in the past is designed to ward off possible attacks from Iran. However, Lavrov on Thursday reiterated Moscow's demand that NATO provide it with binding guarantees about the Western alliance's intentions.
"Capabilities will be created which will pose risks to our nuclear deterrent forces," Lavrov said. "We need clear guarantees that it is not targeted against us."
Rasmussen repeated verbal assurances that Moscow need not be concerned.
"We do not consider Russia a threat to NATO countries … and Russia should not consider NATO a threat," Rasmussen said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stressed the need to get beyond the disagreement over the missile shield.
"Security in Europe exists only with, not against Russia," Westerwelle said.
"Even if the cooperation on missile defense is stagnating, the cooperation in many practical questions is going very well, for example with the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan," the German foreign minister added.
The two-day foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels was meant to lay some of the groundwork for a NATO summit in Chicago next month.
pfd/mz (dpa, AFP)