The winds of change that ended the Cold War and brought down the divide between Western and Eastern Europe continue to blow for the good of world unity. Russia has been offered a central role in Nato and an indication that it would accept means the pulling down of a centuries-old divide. For too long Russia has been left in the cold, even though the so-called Iron Curtain began coming down in 1989. The United States maintained a polarising distance and the Bush administration made no secret that it distrusted its former super-power foe. Washington's insistence on scrapping the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Moscow and going ahead with a missile defence shield system made the situation tense. A series of spying allegations and tit-for-tat expulsions have further strained relations - at a time when the world should have been getting wiser and more open, not guarded. September 11 changed the way the world sees itself. Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, was the first world leader to phone President George W. Bush after the attacks in New York and Washington and he committed his nation to help the US fight terrorism. It is for this reason that Mr Putin met Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson in Moscow yesterday and said he would accept the alliance's offer. The decision puts Russia at the centre of the 19-nation organisation in a role crucial to the future security of Europe. The move will give Russia the power to veto some Nato decisions. Nato's offer was not merely a concession for Russia helping the West - it was a gesture from former foes, an outstretched hand of partnership. It was an opportunity Mr Putin could not let pass. He said Russia did not want to join Nato - he has little choice but to accept the wishes of hardliners in Moscow's Parliament - although last week he told Mr Bush his country should play a bigger role in the grouping. Mr Putin must be applauded for his decision to bring Russia on to the international security stage so that peace and stability can truly be a universal reality.