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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Says Britain, Russia Partners on Afghanistan

London and Moscow, adversaries since the 19th century, are burying the hatchet and cooperating to build a stable Afghanistan, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in an interview published Thursday.

Blair, interviewed by Interfax on the eve of a visit by President Vladimir Putin, also said he wanted closer cooperation between Moscow and NATO while leaving aside for now Russian membership of the bloc.

Blair praised Russia's backing for the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition and vowed that coalition members would not repeat the West's mistake of more than a decade ago in abandoning Afghanistan to its own fate.

"In the last century, Russia and Britain vied for influence in Afghanistan as part of the 'Great Game,'" Blair told Interfax. "Now we share a common interest in the development of Afghanistan as a viable state ready to take its place in the community of nations."

The international community, he said, had a responsibility to support Kabul's interim administration with a stabilization force, to be led by Britain, and to offer humanitarian help.

"We will not make the mistakes of the past -- leaving Afghanistan to its own devices," he said.

British policy in Afghanistan in the 19th century was mainly aimed at countering Russian influence. An attempt to install a compliant ruler in Kabul triggered a popular revolt in which some 16,000 British and Indian troops were killed. Two further attempts to defeat Afghan tribesmen failed in 1878-79 and 1919.

Blair said the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign would eventually enter a new phase, but dodged a question on whether this meant attacks on Iraq. Moscow opposes attacking Baghdad.

"The precise nature of our response will be a matter for careful consultation and deliberation," he said. "We will act only on the basis of evidence."

Blair stood by his proposals to NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson to build closer ties with Russia.

"As for Russia joining NATO, that's not a question for now," he said. "We should focus for now on developing practical cooperation of immediate benefit to Russia and NATO."

The British leader pursued the West's softer policy on Moscow's two-year-old military campaign in Chechnya, offering none of the criticism of alleged excesses by the Russian military routinely voiced until earlier this year.

"We recognize Russia's territorial integrity and its right and obligation to defend its citizens from terrorism," Blair said, calling for a political solution and welcoming recent contacts between representatives of the Kremlin and rebels.