Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin dismissed on Tuesday concerns voiced by Russian internet users over the creation of a transit hub for NATO’s Afghan cargo in the Russian Volga city of Ulyanovsk.
“Reading about a ‘U.S. base near Ulyanovsk’ is annoying,” Rogozin wrote in a post on his Facebook page on Tuesday. “Let me explain: we are talking about a so-called multimodal transit of non-lethal cargos to serve the needs of international security assistance forces in Afghanistan.”
In early February, Russian daily Kommersant quoted Defense Ministry sources as saying that Moscow was in talks with NATO on a new transit agreement under which non-lethal cargos from Afghanistan would be flown to Ulyanovsk, and then transferred to Europe by train.
According to Rogozin, “in Ulyanovsk, mineral water, napkins, tents and other non-military cargos will be reloaded from trains onto planes and then moved to Afghanistan.”
“This will be a commercial transit, which means the Russian budget will get money from it,” he wrote. “I don’t think that the transit of NATO toilet paper through Russia can be considered the betrayal of the Fatherland.”
While local authorities have hailed the new agreement, saying that it would create new jobs and help modernize Ulyanovsk Airport, Russian internet users have expressed concerns over what they called the authorities’ plans to set up a NATO “military base in the middle of the country.”
On Monday, the head of the Defense Committee in the Russian parliament’s lower house, Vladimir Komoyedov, said the State Duma had received an official letter from the Defense Ministry explaining that the Ulyanovsk transit hub will have nothing to do with a “military base.”
Russian internet activists have also speculated that poor customs controls may lead to Afghan drugs being smuggled into the country together with NATO cargos.
Rogozin, who had served as Russia’s envoy to NATO until December 2011, dismissed such concerns in his Facebook post, saying “Customs checks will be obligatory. Stop panicking.”
Russia has provided its territory for NATO’s Afghanistan-bound cargos since 2009. Last year, Moscow also agreed to allow the cargos to cross Russia’s territory in the opposite direction as the alliance is preparing to pull out its troops from Afghanistan.