Russia May Allow NATO
to Move Troops, Cargo to Afghanistan Through Airport on Volga
For the last three years, Moscow has allowed NATO to ship military
supplies to Afghanistan through Russia by rail. Now, this Northern
Distribution Network may use an airport in Russia.
Russiaís foreign minister says the Kremlin is preparing to allow NATO to
use an airport in central Russia as a transit center for soldiers and
military cargo going to and from Afghanistan.
Under this plan, military aircraft would take off from Kabul, and fly
almost 3,000 kilometers over Central Asia, to Ulyanovsk, a city on the
banks of the Volga River.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russiaís Duma Wednesday that use of
the airport would meet Russian interests by allowing NATO to make an
orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan by its December 2014 deadline.
The announcement comes a day after authorities in Kyrgyzstan told
visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that they would not extend
the American lease on a local transit center beyond its expiration date
in July 2014. Manas Transit Center, near Bishkek, has become the main
point of entry and exit for NATO troops from Afghanistan.
Joshua Kucera, a Washington-based writer on Central Asia security
affairs, says the Kyrgyz position may simply signal the start of rent
talks by Kyrgyzstanís new president, Almazbek Atambayev.
"Most people in Bishkek and Washington assume that is a bargaining tool,
that he will accept a U.S. presence for something longer than that, as
long as the U.S. is willing to pay for it," said Kucera.
Kucera says Ulyanovsk would be a back-up to Manas, and Manas is a
back-up to Pakistan.
Last November, Pakistan closed a southern supply route to Afghanistan in
protest against NATO air attacks on two Pakistani military border posts.
For Russia, the NATO deal comes after three months of anti-American
rhetoric as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin assailed the U.S. in a bid to
win domestic support for his ultimately successful bid to win the March
4 presidential elections.
Now, with the election over, Russian officials seems to be tamping down
anti-Americanism. Kucera says now officials have to confront:
"The Russian political domestic angle - it seems people are pretty riled
up by this," he said.
On Tuesday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin wrote on his
Facebook page, "Stop panicking."
Rogozin, who was once Russiaís envoy to NATO, added, "Iím sick of
reading about a U.S. base near Ulyanovsk."
said Ulyanovsk will be a transit center, where nonlethal cargo will be
shipped between cargo planes and railroad cars. He wrote, "I donít think
transit of NATO toilet paper through Russia constitutes betrayal of the
Rogozin and other officials are saying the transit base will give an
economic boost to a midsize city that is seeing hard times. Home to
troubled aircraft and car manufacturing plants, Ulyanovsk is gradually
It has already lost most of its tourism business. In 1924, the city was
renamed after its famous native son, Vladimir Ulyanov, better known as
During the communist era, the birthplace of Lenin became a pilgrimage
site for millions of school children. Two decades ago, when communism
collapsed, this tourism went with it.