Like many other countries, Russia is seizing on a new administration in Washington in an effort to redefine its relationship with the United States. Denis Dyomkin for Reuters:
Russia welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to review policy in Afghanistan and is ready to cooperate, including on supply routes for NATO forces, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday. “
Let us hope the new U.S. administration will be more successful in the Afghan settlement than its predecessor,” Medvedev told a news conference after talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov. “We are ready for fully fledged and equal cooperation on security in Afghanistan, including with the United States,” he added. “We are ready to work on the most complicated issues … including the transit of non-military goods.”
Cooperation on Afghanistan has been the most successful project uniting NATO and Russia, whose relations froze after Moscow’s brief war in Georgia last August. Before the war, Russia agreed to allow non-military NATO supplies to be delivered to Afghanistan across its territory bypassing Pakistan, where supply convoys face security risks.
A related report by the AP adds, “Medvedev says that Russia also is ready to help international efforts to combat drug-trafficking and terrorism.”
Medvedev’s announcement confirms and extends a January 20 report from AP‘s Chris Brummitt that “Russia and neighboring Central Asian nations have agreed to let supplies pass through their territory to American soldiers in Afghanistan, lessening Washington’s dependence on dangerous routes through Pakistan.” The timing of the report, attributed to “a top U.S. commander,” would seem to indicate that the deal was well underway before Obama took office — unless we’re to believe that his team negotiated the deal within 3 hours and 10 minutes of taking the presidential oath and amidst a parade through Washington and various luncheons and photo-ops.
Commenting on that report, OTB’s Dave Schuler observed,
Afghanistan is landlocked. The people there barely have enough food to feed themselves and the country has little in the way of domestic industry to produces arms and armaments. That means that in order to supply a fighting force in Afghanistan everything has to be brought in, either overland through a neighboring country or by air.
As I’ve noted before supplying a substantial force in Afghanistan solely by air would be difficult, dangerous, and expensive. Consequently, most of the supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan have been coming through Pakistan, a route which has been closed several times over the last few months and, as Pakistani government forces are moved from Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan to its border with India, becomes increasingly chancy.
I don’t know whether this move signals a lack of confidence on our part with Pakistan’s reliability or, prospectively, a greater willingness on our part to put pressure on Islamabad. Whether Islamabad can or would respond to pressure is another subject entirely. However, finding alternatives to Pakistan for supplying our troops in Afghanistan is a Good Thing.
So, too, is a cordial relationship with Russia based on mutual interest.