Russian President Dmitri Medvedev says his country wants a partnership with NATO but warns that alliance expansion would only exacerbate tensions.

Mr. Medvedev told al-Jazeera television that building ties with Russia is in the interest of the West, which he said has the power to relieve tensions that have increased because of the Georgian crisis.

The Russian leader said opening the NATO membership process to Georgia and Ukraine, two former Soviet republics, would exacerbate the situation. He also said Russia would consider deployment of a U.S. missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic a threat and warned that this could prompt a military response.

Earlier, Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, said his country will halt visits to Russia by NATO officials and suspend joint exercises, but will continue to allow the alliance transit across Russian territory to Afghanistan.

He called Afghanistan a "common problem," but warned that this position could change if NATO blocks efforts for cooperation.

Rogozin's comments were made less than one week after Russia announced a halt to military cooperation with NATO because of the Georgian crisis.

The United States insists that the planned missile defense system is intended to defend Europe against a possible missile strike from Iran.  

Some information for this report was provided by AP.