WASHINGTON -- A key Russian legislator warns that his government could withdraw permission for the United States to supply its troops in Afghanistan through Russia if the two countries can’t resolve their differences over missile defense.
Alexey Pushkov, chairman of the international affairs committee of the State Duma, said in a recent interview that Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken the missile defense issue “very close to his heart.”
If there is no agreement between the countries on missile defense, the issue of NATO’s use of the two routes “will eventually come into play,” said Pushkov, who is a Putin ally. “I would not take it lightly.”
Russia fears that the NATO missile defense system being assembled in Eastern Europe could one day be expanded enough to neutralize the Russian nuclear missile arsenal.
The Pentagon places top priority on Russia allowing NATO to use the so-called northern distribution route, especially since Pakistan has closed off a NATO supply line as a result of its disputes with the Obama administration. The United States and Russia have an agreement in principle on Russia allowing NATO to use a second air route, through Ulyanovsk, as NATO reduces its troops and equipment in the country.
Although President Obama has expressed confidence that the two countries can find a compromise on the issue, Pushkov said he was skeptical.
“I am skeptical because today in the U.S., taking any steps toward the Russia position is a kind of taboo -- it’s almost a treason -- it’s like selling out American security to Russia,” he said.
He said that among ordinary Russians, American use of the northern supply line is “not popular,” and plans for the second supply line is “even less popular.”
-- Paul Richter
Photo: Alexey Pushkov, head of the international affairs committee of the Russian State Duma, in his office in downtown Moscow. Credit: Sergei L. Loiko