Russia Closed U.S. Air Base; Allowing ‘Non-Lethal’ Supplies Through to Afghanistan

Russia granted transit rights Friday to non-lethal U.S. military supplies headed to Afghanistan but only after apparently pressuring a former Soviet state to close an air base leased to the Americans.

The signal from Moscow: Russia is willing to help on Afghanistan, but only on the Kremlin’s terms.

Kyrgyzstan announced the closure of the Manas air base but American officials suspect that Russia was behind the decision, having long been irritated by the U.S presence in central Asia.

By MIKE ECKEL, Associated Press Writer

The Russian decision to let U.S. supplies cross its territory opened another route to those through Pakistan now threatened by militant attacks, but U.S. officials were still left scrambling for alternatives to Manas.

Russia wants to open discussions on thorny policy issues that Washington and Moscow have clashed on in recent years — NATO enlargement, missile defense in Europe, a new strategic arms control treaty. More importantly, Russia’s expectation is that Washington must go through Moscow where Central Asia is concerned.

Russia may also be showing Washington that its positions aren’t immovable — particularly where Afghanistan is concerned. Russia fears Afghanistan is collapsing into anarchy, leading to instability or Islamic radicals migrating northward through Central Asia.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia had agreed days earlier to allow transit of U.S. non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan.

“We are now waiting for the American partners to provide a specific request with a quantity and description of cargo,” Lavrov said Friday in remarks broadcast by Vesti-24 TV. “As soon as they do that we will issue relevant permissions.”

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