Russia Ready to Negotiate U.S., NATO Supplies for Afghanistan
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meeting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev (right) in Bishkek on October 9, 2008 (Photo by: RIA Novosti)
Russia apparently got the message from the incoming Obama Administration that the new American President had planned a "surge" into Afghanistan to fight a resurgent Taliban. Now that resolve is being tested, in the sense that the Kremlin wants to see what quid pro quo the U.S. is willing to give in return for the use of Russian territory and railroads for shipping materiel from Europe to former Soviet Central Asia. However, unlike the terrible day of September 11, 2001, when then President Vladimir Putin was one of the first world leaders to call President Bush and offer him access to sharing intelligence on the Taliban and his country's airspace for armed U.S. overflights, this time Russia is going to "trust, but verify" American intentions in Eurasia before agreeing to a full-scale supply effort.
Click on the extended post to read an excerpt from the Associated Press story.
Kyrgyzstan is bordered by China, Afghanistan and Russia
Of course, to many Western editorial boards, the very idea that there should be any price paid for transiting Russia (as with the endless wrangling over access to Central Asian oil and gas, for which all pipelines should preferably bypass the Russian Federation, regardless of whether they go through such America-friendly nations as Iran or Turkey) is outrageous. The New York Times said of the good cop-bad cop Russian approach to the U.S., "Russia Offers Kind Words, but Its Fist Is Clenched". The editorial went on to acknowledge that Russia had signalled its willigness to drop the deployment of Iskander missiles to the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad (what had been East Prussia before World War II) in return for the Obama Administration forgoing the previous Administration's planned anti-ballistic missile base in Poland. The NYT didn't mention that the Czech Republic's parliament had already pushed hard to block construction of the radar on which the missile interceptors would depend.
Moscow's hardball negotiating tactics allegedly include pressuring Kyrgyzstan to close the Manas Air Base, a key U.S. supply depot in formerly Soviet Central Asia after 9/11. Nonetheless, the reality is that Kyrgyzstan is an impoverished country that does not share in the oil and gas wealth of its neighbors Kazahkstan and Turkmenistan, and therefore the government may suddenly extend the lease of the base in return for more money from its U.S. and NATO "guests".
Furthermore, not all of the nervousness about a long-term U.S. military presence in Central Asia comes from Moscow -- for that, you have to look further east, to Beijing. It would be quite ironic if after all of the "The Grand Chessboard"-style prognostications about a power struggle between the U.S. and Russia over access to Central Asian resources in the past fifteen years, most of the oil and gas from the region ends up going to China. In any case, the U.S. military has reportedly already reached out to Uzbekistan, an authoritarian government the Bush Administration had criticized for repeated human rights violations, as part of a contigency plan if Manas is closed within the 180 day notice period specified in the lease from Kyrgyzstan.
Russia allows transit of US military supplies
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW -- Russia announced Friday that it will start allowing non-lethal U.S. military supplies for Afghanistan to cross its territory, a vital link in an alternative route to Pakistani roads threatened by militant attacks.
The top national security official in Kyrgyzstan said, meanwhile, that the country will not reverse the decision to close an important U.S. air base, a move seen as influenced by Russia's irritation with the U.S. military presence in Central Asia.
The overall message ahead of a major weekend security conference in Germany appeared to be that Russia is ready to help on the U.S. on Afghanistan, but only on Moscow's terms.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in remarks broadcast by Vesti 24 television that Russia had agreed several days earlier with a U.S. request to allow transit of non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan.
"We are now waiting for the American partners to provide a specific request with a quantity and description of cargo," Lavrov said. "As soon as they do that we will issue relevant permissions."
He and other officials wouldn't say whether the U.S. will be offered air or land transit corridors. But any new transit routes are unlikely to make up for the loss of the Manas air base, home to tanker planes that refuel warplanes flying over Afghanistan. Manas also supports airlifts and medical evacuation operations and houses troops heading into and out of Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan's National Security Council chief, Adakhan Madumarov, appeared to dash any U.S. hopes of securing a last-minute reprieve for the base, saying he was sure of winning parliamentary support for the move.
"The fate of the air base has been sealed," he said.
Kyrgyzstan's president announced the closure of Manas on a visit to Moscow Tuesday, just hours after securing more than $2 billion in loans and aid from Russia. U.S. officials said the move came as a result of pressure from Moscow, but Russia and Kyrgyzstan denied that.
Kyrgyzstan has repeatedly complained the United States is paying too little to lease the base. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's government has faced mounting public anger over crippling electricity shortages, soaring food prices and rampant unemployment, and it desperately needs cash to weather social discontent.
The Kyrgyz parliament delayed a vote on the government's decision to close the Manas base until next week, and some Kyrgyz officials indicated they may discuss the issue with the United States in what could signal their desire to start a bidding war between Washington and Moscow.
But Madumarov said the decision to close the base was final, telling reporters, "there is no doubt the bill to revoke the basing agreement will be ratified."
But even as it seeks to increase its influence in Central Asia -- and lessen Washington's -- Moscow does not want the chaos in Afghanistan to spread across the region if the U.S. and NATO fail there.
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.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov said that Germany has been using air and land routes, and France so far only has used air transit.
U.S. 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 for transit of supplies to Afghanistan, and is now talking to Uzbekistan. U.S. officials said they are considering resuming military cooperation with authoritarian Uzbekistan as a part of backup planning for the potential loss of Manas.
The closure of the Manas base would pose a serious challenge to President Barack Obama's plan to send up to 30,000 more U.S. forces to fight surging Taliban and al-Qaida violence in Afghanistan. It comes as increasing attacks on transportation depots and truck convoys in Pakistan have raised doubts about its ability to protect vital supply routes. About 75 percent of U.S. supplies to Afghanistan currently travel through Pakistan.
Officials in Kyrgyzstan, which does not border Afghanistan, have not specified when the closure might take place, but the lease agreement says the United States must be given 180 days' notice.
Read the rest of the story at the Associated Press website or click here for a direct link.