Russia said it would allow the US 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 US supplies.
Friday’s announcement by a top Kremlin aide came ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow this 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 US offensive is under way in Taliban-controlled areas of Helmand Province.
Russia has been allowing the US to ship non-lethal supplies across its territory for operations in Afghanistan, and Kremlin officials had suggested further cooperation was likely.
Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko told reporters on Friday that the expected deal would enable the US to ship lethal cargo and would include shipments by air and land.
He said it was unclear if 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 US 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 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tomorrow and on Tuesday. After years of increasing strain, both governments have expressed hope that the summit will put ties between the former Cold War rivals back on track.
Military analyst Alexander Golts, however, said the US 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 last impression you should get from this is that Putin’s foreign policy style foresees gestures of goodwill,” Golts said.