4 February 2012
Sources at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Moscow-based daily paper Kommersant that Russia and NATO have reached the concluding stage of negotiating the so called multi-mode transit deal in support of the planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. An unidentified high official at the ministry has confirmed having a discussion of the transit deal that would increase the efficiency of NATO withdrawal by using various transportation means within the same route. The Russian prime-minister Vladimir Putin is supposed to sign a decree of the government to this effect, other newspaper source reports.
Now that US and NATO are approaching the projected date of withdrawal from Afghanistan, they ponder over a reliable route for reverse transit, reads the article further: importantly that Uzbekistan which allows the use of its territory for transit of cargos into Afghanistan is at the same time not willing to let the transits in the opposite direction for fear of possible importation of drugs and weaponry, said an unidentified Russian diplomat.
Moscow appears to have no fears of that kind. Already a year and a half ago, the United States proposed to consider an option that would reduce the time for railroad transportation. The same diplomat explains to the newspaper that the plan included creation of logistical base with a customs terminal somewhere in the Central Russia. Cargos from Afghanistan would be delivered by air and sent further by railroad to Riga or Tallinn. Finally, the parties have agreed to create the base in the city of Ulyanovsk which has the most suitable infrastructure in place, including the airport and railroad connections.
Therefore, according to Kommersant, cargos from Afghanistan are going to be delivered to Russian federation by air, avoiding transiting through Uzbekistan. This would save the West much time and money, another unidentified diplomat told Kommersant. Planes will fly shorter distances, which means they will not require refueling on the way.
In addition to the obvious economic benefit of the proposed transit route via Russia, the newspapers points to the likely political benefits as well: this will give an opportunity to the official Moscow to get credit for achievement of stability in Afghanistan by way of providing the partners with its territory for land and air transit of Afghanistan-bound cargos, as well as for safe withdrawal.
Notably, Uzbekistan was never reported before as refraining from providing its territory for withdrawal of NATO troops and cargoes from Afghanistan. Earlier, the Central Asian republics have been traditionally considered by observers as the most likely partners for the United States, providing transits to and from Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, the United States has only yesterday temporarily waived a ban on providing military assistance to Uzbekistan because of the country's crucial role in transiting supplies to forces in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials.