The U.S. is "appreciative" of Russia's help in transiting military goods to and from Afghanistan, but the Russian (and Central Asian) route is still too expensive, a senior U.S. military officer has said.
The head of U.S. Transportation Command, General William Fraser, gave an interview to Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, and a major theme of the interview was why the U.S. was using the Russian route so little. Fraser said that, for the last several months, less than one percent of U.S. cargo exiting Afghanistan is carried by the Northern Distribution Network through the former Soviet states. By comparison, about 30 percent goes through Pakistan and the rest via air.
And in total, since 2009, 74,600 containers have gone into Afghanistan through Russia, while just 355 containers going out of Afghanistan have passed through Russia. (Note: the U.S. embassy in Riga this summer held a ceremony marking the 100,000th NDN container to pass through that port, and there's no way to get to Afghanistan from Riga without passing through Russia, so...)
Fraser doesn't give specific prices, but says the NDN route is "two to three times more expensive" than going through Pakistan. Nevertheless, he is more diplomatic than was his deputy, who in an interview in October emphasized the excess bureaucracy of Afghanistan's northern neighbors. Fraser makes no mention of that, noting only that since U.S. forces are concentrated in the south and еаst of Afghanistan, the Pakistan route is shorter.
Anyway, usually when a senior official like this gives an interview to a foreign news outlet, it's to impart some sort of message. (The interview was presumably conducted in English, but no English transcript has been released.) And Fraser repeatedly emphasizes how good the partnership is with Russia: "The U.S. is thankful to Russia... We're extremely grateful to our partners in the NDN... We are very appreciative to Russia..."
Dmitry Gorenburg, a Russian military expert at the Center for Naval Analysis, tells The Bug Pit that Fraser: "went out of his way to make it clear that he (and TRANSCOM) as a whole were not interested in anything political, just in doing whatever made the most financial and logistical sense. It may be that the whole point of the interview was precisely to highlight that point for the Russians. 'We are not slighting you by not using the NDN more, it's just that it's more expensive and logistically difficult, and we're all just bean counters here...' seems to be the message being sent."