SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought President Dmitry Medvedev’s help for his nation on Wednesday, two decades after Moscow ended a disastrous conflict there that cost the lives of about 15,000 Soviet troops.
Russia’s foreign minister said Moscow was in talks with NATO and Afghanistan on a plan to send helicopters to help fight insurgents, but no firm deals emerged from a summit that brought Karzai and Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari to Russia.
“Afghanistan will need the support of friends and from great countries like Russia,” Karzai told Medvedev as they sat down for a one-on-one meeting at the Russian president’s summer residence near the Black Sea.
At a gathering analysts said was aimed to boost the Kremlin’s clout in Afghanistan amid U.S. plans for an eventual withdrawal, Medvedev also met separately with Zardari and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon.
When all four leaders met, Zardari urged them to “make the region come together and fight against this war of ideology ... We should support the Afghani people.”
Russia has warmer ties with India than with Pakistan, but has been reaching out as it seeks more regional sway. A similar four-way meeting was held last year in Tajikistan.
Medvedev said Russia has sent aid to help Pakistan cope with devastating flooding and is prepared to do more. “Pakistan will come out of this a stronger nation,” said Zardari.
Medvedev told Karzai that Russia “naturally supports the Afghan government’s fight against terrorism, and is ready to help in any way.”
Still haunted by the decade-long Soviet war in Afghanistan, Russia has said it will not send troops. But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the leaders discussed a plan for the supply of Russian helicopters.
Russia handed NATO a proposal on the delivery of about 20 helicopters several months ago, “and now we are awaiting a firm answer from our partners,” Lavrov told reporters. He said a decision was expected within six weeks.
This month, U.S. helicopter maker Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies, protested a U.S. Navy plan to buy 21 Russian-made Mi-17s — a transport helicopter that can be heavily armed with guns and rockets — for use in Afghanistan.
Medvedev said trafficking in Afghan drugs, which feed a major drug abuse problem in Russia, “is an issue for all the countries in the region ... our actions should be synchronized.”
Russia has sharply criticized the U.S. and NATO strategy for fighting Afghan drug production.
NATO has rejected Russian calls for the eradication of Afghan opium poppy fields, saying Moscow could help control the drug by giving more assistance against the insurgency.
Lavrov said the leaders also discussed routing electricity supplies from Tajikistan though Afghanistan to Pakistan.
Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman