Russia yields to request by US

Allowing weapons to cross its terrain, enter Afghanistan

By Nataliya Vasilyeva
Associated Press / July 4, 2009
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MOSCOW - Russia said yesterday that it will allow the United States to ship weapons across its territory to Afghanistan, a long-sought move that bolsters US military operations but potentially gives the Kremlin leverage over critical American supplies.

The announcement by a top Kremlin aide came ahead of President Obama’s visit to Moscow next week, when the deal is expected to be signed during a summit aimed at improving the nations’ strained relations.

Russia’s concession on arms shipments also came as the Obama administration is shifting the US military’s focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, where a massive American offensive is underway in Taliban-controlled areas of Helmand Province.

Russia has been allowing the United States to ship non-lethal supplies across its territory for operations in Afghanistan, and Kremlin officials had suggested further cooperation was probable.

Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said yesterday that the expected deal would enable the United States to ship lethal cargo and would include shipments by air and land.

He said it was unclear whether US soldiers or other personnel would be permitted to travel through Russian territory or airspace.

“They haven’t asked us for it,’’ he said.

The normal supply route to landlocked Afghanistan via Pakistan has come under repeated Taliban attack, and the United States and NATO have been eager to have an alternate overland supply route through Russia and the Central Asian countries.

Confirmation of such a deal appeared aimed at setting a constructive tone for the meetings between Obama and Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, on Monday and Tuesday.

Military analyst Alexander Golts, however, said the United States should be under no illusion about Russia’s intentions. Although Medvedev has set a warmer tone in relations with the West, his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, retains considerable power as prime minister.

“The least impression you should get from this is that Putin’s foreign policy style foresees gestures of good will,’’ Golts said.

“If something goes wrong in Russian-US relations, this transit will cease as quickly and suddenly as it started,’’ Golts said.