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August 10, 09

NEWS / Afghan Transit Agreement Means Closer U.S.-Russia Cooperation

Accord will diversify supply routes, speed deployments, cut costs
By Carlos Aranaga
Staff Writer

Washington — The recent accord allowing the transport of U.S. troops and combat materials through Russian air space en route to Afghanistan not only will speed deployments and cut costs, but also set the stage for expanded cooperation in other security areas, say top U.S. defense officials.

Speaking to the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee July 30, Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow said, “Recent developments in U.S.-Russian relations present new opportunities for cooperation with Moscow to enhance U.S. and European security.” On how it affects cooperation in areas of common interest, Vershbow said, “We are building on this positive momentum to collaborate in areas where our national interests coincide, such as nonproliferation, arms control, and promoting security and stability in Afghanistan.”

Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, told the panel of legislators that the new military transit agreement “permits up to 4,500 military and unlimited commercial flights each year, and will yield significant savings.”

“The agreement will diversify the crucial supply routes to Afghanistan, reduce transit times and fuel usage, and complement agreements we have made with others in the region. We will continue to use all available routes to Afghanistan and not become overly dependent on any one of them. It should take no more than 60 days to implement the agreement,” Vershbow said.

The new transit agreement is in addition to overland routes carrying nonlethal supplies through Russia that have been in use by American and other NATO forces since earlier this year. Vice Admiral James Winnefeld, the director for strategic plans and policy on the U.S. Joint Staff, also testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, said, “Although the transit agreement is young and has yet to be utilized, the NATO-Russia nonlethal transit arrangement has already diversified and enhanced our logistical support to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which has facilitated the movement of more than 1,500 rail cars of vital supplies.”

“Creating redundant logistical routes is an insurance policy on our strategic framework,” Winnefeld said.

On the new deal with Kyrgyzstan for the use of its Manas Air Base, Winnefeld said, “We have had a difficult journey over the past six months resolving this issue. However, I believe that the Russians now understand that the U.S. does not have long-term basing ambitions in Central Asia, which has assuaged Russian sensitivities with respect to our transitory presence in the region.”

“Clearly, the U.S. and Russia share a common goal of building a secure and stable Central Asia, where neither terrorism nor narcotics spill over borders and threaten our citizens,” he said.

The administration officials referred panel members to the July 6 joint statement on Afghanistan by Presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev that itemized shared goals of the United States and Russia, including democracy and economic growth; countering terrorism, extremism and illegal drug trafficking; and enhancing the government of Afghanistan’s capacity to achieve key socioeconomic objectives, raise living standards and ensure the security of its people.

The joint statement also supported U.N. Security Council Resolution 1386 authorizing military forces for Afghanistan. Medvedev and Obama further voiced their intent “to make active use of the transit route through the territory of the Russian Federation for deliveries of property and equipment for the needs of the international forces operating in Afghanistan.”

Winnefeld said the joint statement on Afghanistan and the new military transit agreement show that “our nations have chosen to reject the false choice between cooperation on security and ceding a nation or region to the other’s sphere of influence. Instead, we are choosing to work more constructively, with the intent that better cooperation creates trust, restores confidence and provides a positive example for relations between Russia and NATO.”




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