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12 Jul, 2009 05:16

Russia opens its airspace for military transit to Afghanistan

Moscow has agreed to open its airspace for US military supplies to Afghanistan on the condition that Russia will inspect the transit cargo. The deal was announced during Obama’s Moscow visit.

There were other alternative routes for the US to supply its troubled campaign in Afghanistan – through Georgia and Azerbaijan or Pakistan – but America was keen to seal this deal.

“The US knows it’s much safer going through Russia. There were up to 200 trucks with cargo lost in Pakistan in recent months. And also the US wants to ensure safe conditions for transit personnel,” believes political analyst Vladimir Evseev.

It is not the first deal on cargo deliveries between US and Moscow for NATO operations, but the previous one only covered the transit of non-military cargo to Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Russia backs the coalition’s aim of defeating militants in the country.

Observers of the negotiations also say that joint efforts towards more security in the region could drive Moscow and Washington towards closer military cooperation.

“The US is not fighting in Afghanistan on its own. So this gives Russia an opportunity to broaden its cooperation with NATO members. Perhaps there could even be more cooperation between the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes some former Central Asian Soviet republics and NATO, too,” Evseev noted.

However, the deal could cause major problems for Russia, which the US also admits.

“I think both countries perceive the need to dampen the Islamic movement. Al Qaeda often hit US allies and friends instead of the US, because they are easier to get to or closer,” Ivan Eland, defense analyst and author, told RT.

Both countries still have major disagreements on issues like the US missile defense shield plan for Europe and NATO expansion eastward to Russian borders.

Some say permitting the US to fly military cargo over Russian territory raises the question of what exactly Moscow is getting in return.

“We have not been told what concessions America’s made in return for those flights to Afghanistan. If it didn't make any concession then Medvedev and Putin will have to answer to the Russian political class. If the US made a major concession Obama hasn't told the American people what it is yet,” explains Stephen Cohen, Professor of Russian History at New York University.