Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New York Times Lied About Russian Supply Route

Why am I not all that surprised?

"The Costly New Supply Route To Afghanistan

On December 21 I wrote:

NATO is negotiating with Russia over opening a new supply route through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The U.S. plans a different route through Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
I doubt that the effort will succeed. Russia will have a say in this no matter how much bribes the U.S. is willing to pay the dictators of those countries.

An additional supply route to Afghanistan without Russia is not possible. Such a solution will have to be negotiated.

But astonishingly last Tuesday the NYT reported this:

Faced with the risk that Taliban attacks could imperil the main supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan, the United States military has obtained permission to move troop supplies through Russia and Central Asia, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in the Middle East, said on Tuesday.
The general had previously visited Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to discuss the issue.

“There have been agreements reached, and there are transit lines now and transit agreements for commercial goods and services in particular that include several countries in the Central Asian states and also Russia,” he said.

Had I missed all the negotiations? No. Russia did not know about the deal Petraeus announced:

MOSCOW, January 22 (Itar-Tass) - Russia did not permit the United States and NATO to transit military supplies across the country to Afghanistan, Russian Military Representative to NATO General of the Army Alexei Maslov told Itar-Tass on Thursday.

“No official documents were submitted to Russia’s permanent mission in NATO certifying that Russia had authorized U.S. and NATO military supplies transit across the country,” he said ...

Neither did Turkmenistan:

Turkmenistan has issued a swift denial of a report in a Russian newspaper alleging Ashgabat would provide training camps and logistical support for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

It seems like Petraeus screwed up with his remarks. You do not announce a deal when there is no deal yet. Russia of course has conditions:

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, for the first time made an explicit link between the restoration of ties and giving the alliance transit routes across Russia and neighbouring states to ship supplies into Afghanistan.

"If our joint business in this Council goes well and after its informal session we agree on the resumption of the Council's activities, I do not exclude that this transit will start working at full capacity," Interfax news agency quoted Rogozin as saying.

Today the first 'inofficial' meeting between Russia and NATO after the little Georgia war took place:

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said after the two-hour meeting that the envoys from Russia and NATO's 26 nations had focused on areas of common interest, "with Afghanistan coming up frequently."

"There was a very positive discussion, a very positive spirit, with no recriminations or any desire to dredge up past disagreements," he said.

But that is still not enough. I doubt that Russia will agree to a supply route without at least some feel for the new administration and especially its stand on missile defense in eastern Europe and on NATO expansion, both directed against Russia.

And after the U.S. broke its promiss made at the end of the cold war to not expand NATO, Russia may this time well ask for something more formal. Hillery Clinton and the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov are expected to have phonecall today and may meet soon.

Expect this to play out a bit longer. For Russia the issue is not urgent. For the U.S. the planed expansion of the war in Afghanistan is to 90% impossible without the supply route through Russia. Petraeus' faux pax made the urgency clear.

Russia will of course use this to its best interest. It now has the U.S. by the balls. Once the supply route is established but could get closed anytime Russia is miffed, the grip will only tighten. The price the U.S. pays for the supply route will ever increase.