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Moscow and NATO agreed to expand opportunities for transit of military cargoes through Russia’s territory, Kommersant reported. Moscow is in talks with the Alliance to launch the so-called multimodal transit from Afghanistan to Europe that will combine air and ground shipment of cargoes. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is expected to sign the relevant decree soon. Afghanistan-bound transit is one of the few themes where positions of Russia and NATO coincide against the backdrop of insurmountable discrepancies over a missile defence shield in Europe.
Officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry told Kommersant that Russia and NATO are close to concluding the talks on multimodal cargo transit from Afghanistan. “We’ve discussed this theme with NATO,” a high-ranking diplomat confirmed. “The multimodal cargo transit is the means to raise efficiency of the NATO forces’ pullout from Afghanistan using different types of transport through one and the same route.”
Afghanistan is one of the few regions where the interests of Russia, the United States and NATO coincide on the whole range of issues. Russia has already provided its territory for the Northern Distribution Network to transport non-military cargoes to Afghanistan. Over 50 percent of cargoes necessary for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force are transported through this route. But now when the pullout of the U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan tops the agenda western nations came to think of a reliable route in the opposite direction that would have a good throughput capacity. This theme became vital, when Uzbekistan, whose territory is actively used for carrying Afghanistan-bound cargoes, rejected to provide its territory for the alliance’s withdrawal.
“Uzbeks fear the influx of drugs and arms, as trains full of military hardware will run and it will be not so easy to check them all,” the Russian expert said.
It appears that Moscow suffers no such phobias. Russian diplomats say the talks on the issue started eighteen months ago, when the U.S. proposed to consider such a scheme that would reduce the rail shipping time. “The talk focused on choosing a city in Central Russia that would serve as a logistics base with a customs terminal,” a foreign ministry official said. “Cargoes from Afghanistan would be delivered there by planes and then transferred to Riga or Tallinn by train.” The officials told Kommersant that several options were considered, but Ulyanovsk on the Volga River was chosen as a transit centre, as its airport provides most convenient conditions for the railway transfer.
Thus, in compliance with the new scheme NATO’s cargos from Afghanistan would be delivered to Ulyanovsk by planes, including Russian ones, and then transferred to Europe by trains.
“This will save a lot of time and money for the West. Planes will fly shorter distances, which means it will not require refueling on the way,” the official told Kommersant.
The daily expressed an opinion that this is advantageous for Russia not from an economic, but from a political point of view. Moscow will be able to say any time that it took part in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, ensuring unimpeded delivery of all necessary equipment for the NATO troops and later their comfortable withdrawal.