Russia Steps Back From Afghanistan Transit Threat
When firebrand Russian politician and ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin last week appeared to threaten to cut off NATO and U.S. military transit to Afghanistan, it was seen as another sign of the recently deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow, and got a lot of attention. But now, apparently, Rogozin is saying he was misquoted.
NATO's foreign ministers are meeting now in Brussels, and a State Department official, speaking on background, says Rogozin has told them he never said he would cut off the Northern Distribution Network:
On the NDN, it’s actually – there was no confirmation. Even Rogozin, who was the one who was quoted, has said – he told us today, but he said all along his was misquoted and they are not linking the NDN to our disagreement on missile defense.
Indeed, if you look at the original story from Interfax (in Russian) Rogozin doesn't exactly spell the threat out, and it seems that Interfax could have put the words in his mouth.
But Rogozin apparently didn't talk to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who, in a press conference at the meeting, said Russian talk of the NDN was "an empty threat":
I think, honestly speaking, that it’s an empty threat because it is clearly in Russia’s self-interest to contribute to a success in Afghanistan. Russia knows from bitter experience that instability in Afghanistan have negative repercussions in Russia as well.
And obviously, that’s also the reason why Russia has embarked on a cooperation with NATO and with ISAF by providing a transit arrangement. Actually one year ago in Lisbon, we decided to expand that transit to be a reverse transit. So I would be very surprised if Russia took a step that is in direct contradiction with what is Russia’s self-interest.
However, Rogozin (as far as I know) hasn't publicly disavowed those comments, and so they'll likely continue to be breathlessly quoted by hardliners in both Moscow and Washington. And knowing Rogozin, he'll likely say several far more outrageous things in the next few hours, so he'll continue to keep bloggers busy.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.