Russia is willing to help NATO with reconstruction and intelligence work in Afghanistan but has no plans to contribute troops, itsdefence minister said Friday.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was attending an informal meeting of NATO defence ministers in Seville, Spain,said Russia wants to see the NATO's International Security Assistance Force succeed in Afghanistan.

The coalition of about 35,000 troops from 37 countries — including more than 2,000 from Canada — has been trying to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan in the wake of theU.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban government in2001.

"Russia has the most vital, visceral interest in ensuring that the International Security Assistance Force makes a success of stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan," Ivanov was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"Clearly we are never going to be able to send our troops into Afghanistan," he said.

The Russian psyche still bears the scars of the Soviet Union's disastrous incursion in Afghanistan. The Soviets invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up a communist government and to suppress a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement that Moscow feared would spread to southern Soviet republics.

By 1989, the Soviet Union was driven out of the country by anti-communist mujahedeen forces.

Russia to write off $10B Afghandebt

Ivanov said Russia intends to write off Afghanistan's debt of about $10 billion that was incurred by the country while it was occupied by the former Soviet Union, Reuters reported.

He also pointed out that Russia allows France and Germany to cross its territory whenthey move equipment to their troops in Afghanistan.

Russia is prepared to allow Spain to do the same, he said.

NATO members contribute equipment, some troops

At the meeting in Spain, NATO officials put pressure on member states to contribute more troops to help fight an offensive by the Taliban expected in the spring.

Member states were reluctant to make larger contributions, but some pledged to send equipment:

  • Lithuania said it would send some of its special forces to Afghanistan. It already has 130 troops there.
  • Germany said it will send six Tornado reconnaissance jets.
  • Spain said it would contribute four unmanned planes and moreinstructors to help the Afghan army.
  • Italy agreed to send a transport plane and some unmanned surveillance aircraft.

Taliban offensive expected in spring

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, whoattended the meeting,told reporters on Thursdaythat the spring could be pivotal in defeating the Taliban.

"Each spring for the last several years, the Taliban have been more aggressive and there has been an increasing level of violence," he said.

"There is a consensus on the part of the ministers that it is important that this year we knock the Taliban back."

According to NATO, the meeting of defence ministers was fruitful.

"On Afghanistan, ministers agreed that the fundamental NATO strategy remains sound: a robust military presence to support reconstruction and development, as part of a comprehensive international approach in support of the Afghan government," NATO said on its website.

With files from the Associated Press