Nato ageements are at risk

Nato commanders are waiting anxiously to see if Russia intends to scrap its offer to allow civilian supply convoys to use Russian land routes into Afghanistan.

This is far from the only element of Nato/Russian military co-operation now at risk, however, because of the row over Georgia. Several areas of joint activity and assistance include:

— Training and exercises so that Russian and Nato troops can engage in joint operations.

— Counter-narcotics training by Russian specialists in Afghanistan to address the threat of trafficking in central Asia. Co-ordinating with Russian ships in Nato’s counter-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean. Russia sent a frigate in 2006 and more warships were supposed to be on offer this year.

— Developing search and rescue co-operation. In 2005 Russia took part in Nato’s biggest such exercise.

— Joining in crisis management exercises, and co-operating over terrorist air threats. Between 1996 and 2003 Russia was the largest non-Nato troop contributor to Nato-led peacekeeping operations.

Although the Afghan land route is not yet operational, the offer in April was seen as a crucial sign of improving Russian military partnership with the alliance. Such a deal would also have provided a vital alternative route for supplies into Afghanistan other than through the Khyber Pass from Pakistan.The existing route through Pakistan has been subject to frequent Taleban attacks, and the Russian deal was regarded as the answer to Nato commanders’ prayers.

Russia has now said that it is suspending all military links with Nato, although alliance sources said that Moscow had not stated officially that the land route offer had been withdrawn.

The sources said that it was not yet operational because negotiations were still continuing with other countries in the region — Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. "If this falls through then we’ll just have to carry on with our present arrangements, sending supplies from Pakistan," one source said.

However, the current land route has been subject to frequent Taleban attacks, and the Russian deal was seen as the answer to Nato commanders’ prayers.

[Source: By Michael Evans, Defence Editor, The Times, London, Uk, 27Aug08]

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