MUNICH (AP) — Russia wants pragmatic relations with the United States but also is hoping for the creation of a "post-West world order," the country's foreign minister said Saturday, dismissing the NATO military alliance as a relic of the Cold War.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's comments at the Munich Security Conference came hours after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told the gathering that the U.S. will "hold Russia accountable" even as the Trump administration searches for common ground with Moscow.
The annual get-together of diplomats and defense officials has been marked by Western concerns about President Donald Trump's approach to foreign policy and attitude toward Russia.
"What kind of relations do we want with the U.S.? Pragmatic relations, mutual respect, understanding our special responsibility for global stability," Lavrov said.
"We have immense potential that has yet to be tapped into, and we're open for that, inasmuch as the U.S. is open for that as well," he added.
At the forum, both Pence and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis tried to walk-back earlier remarks from Trump that NATO as an alliance was "obsolete," emphasizing the U.S. support for it and its continued importance.
Lavrov, however, echoed the characterization of NATO as obsolete, declaring to the conference that the military alliance "remained a Cold War institution."
"Responsible leaders should make a choice, I hope that the choice will be done in favor a creating a democratic and just world order," Lavrov said, speaking through an interpreter.
"If you want, you can call it a 'post-West world order,' when each country, based on its sovereignty within the rules of international law, will strive to find a balance between its own national interests and the national interests of partners."
Following Lavrov's comments, and a bilateral meeting with the Russian envoy, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told The Associated Press that Moscow's criticism of NATO was well known. He said that criticism has increased as the alliance has gone ahead with positioning battlegroups in the Baltics and Poland as a deterrence to a "more assertive Russia."
"We don't want to provoke a conflict. We want to prevent conflict and preserve the peace," Stoltenberg said. "Our aim is not to isolate Russia. We don't want a new Cold War, we don't want a new arms race, what we do is measured and defensive."
He rejected the notion that NATO's purpose had vanished with the fall of the Iron Curtain, noting the alliance's important missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and in the fight against terrorism and piracy.
"NATO is an alliance for the 21st century. We are an alliance for today and tomorrow because we have the unique ability to change and adapt when the world is changing," he said.