View Full Version : Reports: Supplies to soon flow through Russia

02-16-09, 07:10 AM
Reports: Supplies to soon flow through Russia
By Jim Heintz - The Associated Press
Posted : Saturday Feb 14, 2009 18:01:50 EST

MOSCOW — The shipment of U.S. military supplies for Afghanistan through Russia will begin soon, news agencies quoted Russia’s foreign minister as saying Saturday.

“The transit will take place literally within days,” Sergey Lavrov told TV Tsentr, according to the Interfax, ITAR-Tass and RIA-Novosti agencies.

Foreign Ministry officials could not be reached for comment late Saturday, and the reports did not say whether the supplies would transit Russia by land or air. However, Russia announced last week that it would allow U.S. shipments of non-lethal military supplies to Afghanistan.

Supply routes to Afghanistan for the U.S.-led international military operation have become an increasingly critical issue in recent months amid growing militant attacks on the land routes through Pakistan that carry about 75 percent of U.S. supplies.

The U.S. plans to send around 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan this year.

Concerns rose further this month when Kyrgyzstan’s president announced that the Central Asian country intends to evict a U.S. military base that is an important transit point for Afghanistan-bound troops and supplies. The base also is home to tanker planes that refuel military aircraft over Afghanistan.

The planned closure, which still must be approved by the Kyrgyz parliament, was announced shortly after Russia announced an aid package totaling more than $2 billion for the impoverished country. The timing led to wide speculation that the aid and the base closure were linked.

Russian officials have denied any linkage, but the Kremlin is clearly uncomfortable with a U.S. military presence in the ex-Soviet republic that it regards as part of its traditional sphere of influence.

But Russia recently has shown renewed willingness to help the international forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Russia also has responded favorably to President Barack Obama’s go-slow approach on a proposed U.S. missile shield in Europe and recent signs of U.S. accord with Moscow.

After agreeing this month to the transit of non-lethal U.S. supplies to Afghanistan, Lavrov raised the prospect that Russia could also agree to allow shipment of U.S. armaments — presumably in exchange for U.S. concessions such as backing off from support for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine and from the proposals to put elements of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The Kremlin last year signed a framework deal with NATO for transit of non-lethal cargo for coalition forces in Afghanistan and has allowed some alliance members, including Germany, France and Spain, to move supplies across its territory.

Ground routes through Russia would likely cross into Kazakhstan and then Uzbekistan before entering northern Afghanistan.

The U.S. has reached a preliminary deal with Kazakhstan to use its territory, and officials have said they are considering resuming military cooperation with Uzbekistan, which neighbors Afghanistan.

That option is problematic for Washington: Uzbekistan kicked U.S. forces out of a base there after sharp U.S. criticism of the country’s human rights record and the government’s brutal quashing of a 2005 uprising.

Renewing those ties would also open the United States to new accusations it is working with an authoritarian government that tortures its citizens. Uzbekistan also has in the past faced a low-level insurgency from Islamic radicals, though a government crackdown has quelled much of it.