With the crisis in Ukraine showing no sign of abating, the U.S.'s ties with Russia are at their lowest level since the Cold War. But some in the U.S. military are apparently advocating restraint in dealing with Russia for the sake of Afghanistan military logistics. That's according to a piece in the Christian Science Monitor, which quotes U.S. military officials discussing the potential impact of political problems with Russia on the transit to Afghanistan.
The U.S.'s military transit route through Russia and Central Asia to Afghanistan, the Northern Distribution Network, has been a key backup to the shorter, cheaper land routes via Pakistan. For a variety of reasons, the NDN has become a much less busy route over the last year or so. There have been various figures given for the percentage of cargo now transiting Russia from Afghanistan (including as little as less than one percent). But even at a small volume, the NDN plays an important role:
As the US military prepares to draw down in Afghanistan, the NDN – through which some five percent of US military materials are currently being moved out of the country – likely will continue to grow in importance, particularly if President Obama pursues a “zero option” and pulls all US troops from the war by the end of the year.
“That’s why we want to keep the NDN open,” [a] senior defense official says. “We can surge more material up and out through the network if we need to do that.”
However, Russia maintains a financial interest in keeping the NDN going, even despite political problems:
In a time of economic uncertainty, the NDN offers Russia a considerable source of income, in the neighborhood of $1 billion a year.
“Putin’s finance guys might be telling him, ‘Hey, we really need the cash,’ ” [co-director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington Thomas] Sanderson notes.
The U.S. has already suspended all direct military cooperation with Russia as a result of Moscow's moves in Ukraine. The NDN apparently isn't affected by that; the transit is carried out by commercial contractors.
The U.S. also has imposed sanctions on Russians involved in Moscow's Crimea policy, with more to come. That could restrict commercial relations between military-connected Russian businesses and the U.S., though one would imagine that Washington will make an exception for NDN business. So that's a billion dollars Russia doesn't have to worry about losing...