About 80 people in Russia’s Volga city of Ulyanovsk attended a protest on Monday against plans to establish a NATO transit base at Ulyanovsk airport, prompted by fears the base could become a hub for drug trafficking, RIA Novosti reported.
“We are deeply shocked at the actions of the country's authorities concerning lease of Vostochny Airport to NATO as a transit base, clearing a drug-trafficking route into our country,” the participants of the meeting said in a statement.
Afghan drug production increased dramatically after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban in 2001, and Russia has been one of the most affected countries, with heroin consumption rising steeply. An estimated 90% of heroin consumed in Russia is trafficked from Afghanistan via the former Soviet Central Asian republics.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that the government had yet to consider the transit base plan. No agreement has come into force, he said.
Lavrov was commenting on media reports last month quoting 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.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin wrote in his blog on March 13 that it would be commercial transit. He also said the non-lethal cargo would be transported to Afghanistan, not from it. Moscow says the offer would ease the strain on the alliance’s supply chain to forces in Afghanistan.
Protesters from the Communist Party in Ulyanovsk urged a national referendum on the base’s deployment, saying that “there is a real threat that along with military cargos, the base will be a new route for drug trafficking.”
“There is also a danger of uncontrolled arms supplies,” the Communists added.
Ulyanovsk Region Governor Sergey Morozov has backed the NATO base plan, saying it would create new jobs and provide transport companies with long-term contracts.