BRUSSELS - Russian President Vladimir Putin opened a day of talks Wednesday with the heads of NATO and the European Union pledging to take his country's cooperation with both organizations to a new level in the fight against international terrorism.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday after meeting Belgian leaders, Putin said he was convinced Osama bin Laden had a role in the attacks on the United States and said Russia was ready to play its role in the fight against terrorists who he called a "bacteria" living off the bodies of their host states.
His strong vocal support for U.S. counterterrorist preparations and offer of Russian help, including by tracking down terrorist finances and support networks, will have been warmly welcomed by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and EU leaders who Putin meets on the last day of his visit to Brussels.
"Russia has impressed many by her willingness to set history aside and to align herself solidly with the international coalition against terrorism," EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said Tuesday in a speech to European business leaders.
The new spirit of friendship between Russia and Western Europe is likely to be further enhanced by a joint-statement on terrorism due to be released after Putin meets Romano Prodi, head of the European Commission, and Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.
While Putin has ruled out Russian military involvement in a U.S. strike in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime shelters bin Laden, he is offering a wide range of cooperation and is encouraging former Soviet-nations in Central Asia to do the same.
"We are ready to strengthen our cooperation with NATO and European military structures, to give a new quality to our relationship," he said.
Putin also told his hosts that the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya is being used as a base for international terrorism and other Russian officials have said some of the suicide hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington trained with Chechen rebels.
EU leaders are expected to tone down their previous criticism of Russian military actions in Chechnya, despite appeals from human rights campaigners not to turn a blind eye to abuses by troops there in return for Russian's support against terrorism.