Russian experts say the apparent change of heart in Moscow is partly because of president-elect Vladimir Putin's desire to turn away from his sometimes-strident anti-American electoral rhetoric and return to more normal cooperation with the West. Another reason, they say, is that Moscow has become alarmed at talk in the US and other NATO countries about a precipitous pullout of forces from Afghanistan, particularly in the wake of last weekend's deadly shooting rampage by a US soldier that killed 16 civilians, which appears to have undermined public support for the war.
Despite its often critical stance toward the US, Moscow has long acknowledged that NATO forces are fighting for essential Russian interests in Afghanistan. Should the coalition troops depart and the Taliban return, Russia believes it would face a wave of potential consequences, including an upsurge in Islamist radicalism across former Soviet Central Asia.
Since President Obama started his controversial "reset" of relations with Russia, Moscow has moved to increase cooperation by allowing NATO aircraft to use a permanent "transit corridor" through former Soviet territory (Russian and former Soviet airspace was previously off-limits to NATO military flights) and stepping up joint action against drug trafficking, which Moscow views as one of the biggest threats emanating from Afghanistan.