By Alan Cullison (November 28, 2011)
Russia said it may not let NATO use its territory to supply troops in Afghanistan if the alliance doesn’t seriously consider its objections to a U.S.-led missile shield for Europe, Russia’s ambassador to NATO said Monday.
Russia has stepped up its objections to the antimissile system in Europe, threatening last week to deploy its own ballistic missiles on the border of the European Union to counter the move. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization says the shield is meant to thwart an attack from a rogue state such as Iran, that it poses no threat to Russia, and that the alliance will go ahead with the plan despite Moscow’s objections.
If NATO doesn’t give a serious response, “we have to address matters in relations in other areas,” Russian news services reported Dmitri Rogozin, ambassador to NATO, as saying. He added that Russia’s cooperation on Afghanistan may be an area for review, the news services reported.
Threats to the NATO supply line through Russia come at an awkward time for the alliance. NATO has become increasingly reliant on the Russian route as problems in Pakistan—its primary supply route—have escalated. Over the weekend, Pakistan closed its border to trucks delivering supplies in response to coalition airstrikes Saturday that killed 25 Pakistani soldiers.
NATO began shipping its supplies through Russia in 2009, after the so-called reset in relations between Moscow and the U.S., allowing the alliance a safer route for supplies into Afghanistan. But U.S.-Russian relations have been strained lately by the approach of elections in both countries. In the past week, the Kremlin has sharply stepped up its anti-Western rhetoric ahead of parliamentary elections on Dec. 4.
Ivan Safranchuk, deputy director of the Moscow-based Institute of Contemporary International Studies, said Russia is unlikely to cut off the flow of NATO supplies to Afghanistan as an immediate response to missile-defense decisions. But Russia does want its objections to the missile shield to be taken more seriously, he said.
“If the U.S. is not responsive, then a cutoff could be a reality at some point,” Mr. Safranchuk said. “Russia would like the U.S. to be more serious about Russian concerns.”