5 years, 8 months ago
Adding to our coverage and analysis of the logistics for Operation Enduring Freedom, it appears that negotiations are all but finished for a new supply route through Russia.
A NATO official says talks on setting up an alternate supply route to Afghanistan are at an advanced stage — an issue of growing urgency because of intensifying attacks by pro-Taliban forces on convoys in Pakistan.
The official who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter says diplomatic efforts are nearing conclusion on the new route for military supplies that will pass through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Moscow agreed last year to let the alliance use its territory to resupply the 62,000 Western troops in landlocked Afghanistan.
Some individual NATO members already use the so-called northern route to supply their forces in Afghanistan. But the alliance as a whole still relies on the route from Pakistan’s port of Karachi.
But we have also pointed out the alternative to Russia via Georgia. Harder and more time consuming though it would be, it removes Russia as the center of gravity in the plan. With supply to U.S. troops in Afghanistan being dependent upon Russian good will, it remains to be seen how much pressure relations with the Ukraine and Georgia will sustain. For instance, without Russian cooperation in consideration, would the U.S. support membership in NATO for these two countries?
Russia is even now proving itself to be a recalcitrant neighbor.
Europeans likely didn’t need much more evidence of how unreliable a partner Russia can be, but this week the Kremlin gave them definitive proof.
In a pricing dispute with Ukraine, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered supplies of natural gas to Europe shut off, just as most of the continent was at the coldest point of what has been an unusually cold winter.
Europe relies on Russia for 25 percent to 40 percent of its natural gas, and 80 percent of that is shipped through pipelines that cross Ukraine. The cutoff was felt from Turkey to France and was particularly acute in the Balkans and southeastern Europe, where several countries declared states of emergency.
Russia claims that Ukraine is behind in its payments for gas and is seeking $600 million in late fees plus a higher price for future shipments.
In any reasonable part of the world, this dispute might be settled by mutually agreed-upon international arbitration. Whatever culpability Ukraine has in this dispute, Russia has motives other than financial. It resents Ukraine’s successful experiment with democracy, its support for Georgia in the recent conflict and especially its plans to join NATO.
All this comes as Russia is reeling from a financial crisis brought by the collapse of oil and gas prices and by the Kremlin’s custom of appropriating foreign-owned firms once they become profitable.
For the Europeans, Russian natural gas is the most readily available, but as long as the Kremlin uses price and availability as blunt instruments of foreign policy, they’d be foolish to rely on it.
This is a wake-up call for Europe to search for alternative sources delivered through more secure routes.
Is this a wake-up call that should have been heard in the office of the Secretary of Defense as well?