NATO Avoids ‘Costly’ Russian Transit Hub – Paper

NATO Meeting file photo

(RIA Novosti – MOSCOW, August 15, 2013) A year after Russia opened a transit hub in Ulyanovsk to help in NATO’s pullout from Afghanistan, not a single alliance member has used it, a Russian newspaper said Thursday.

“Russian authorities insisted, when opening the hub, that only Russian transport companies service its operations. And they hiked the prices so much that no members of the [International Security Assistance Force] ISAF [mission in Afghanistan] found it attractive,” Kommersant said, citing an unnamed official at NATO headquarters.

Rates for shipping via Ulyanovsk in Russia’s Volga federal district stand at 50,000 euro ($66,500) per container, compared to 30,000 euro ($40,000) for an alternative route via Termez in Uzbekistan, the daily said.

However, the Kommersant report cited a Russian government source as attributing lack of interest in the Ulyanovsk route to NATO’s fears that Moscow could use it for pressuring the alliance. The source conceded that shipping through Russia was more expensive than through Uzbekistan, but said it was “faster and safer.”

The fact that NATO wanted a foreign company to oversee transit, something that Russia refused to allow over national security concerns, proved another obstacle, a source at a company that was to handle the Ulyanovsk transit was cited as saying.

No one at the Russian Defense Ministry’s press office was immediately able to comment on the story. ISAF’s Kabul headquarters and the NATO press office in Moscow both redirected all requests to NATO’s main press office in Brussels, which had not returned requests for comment by the time of publication.

Since 2009, ISAF has shipped goods through Russia as part of its Northern Distribution Network. NATO-affiliated think-tank CENAA said last year that 60,000 containers had been shipped via this route, bringing Russia an estimated $300 million in customs payments and shipping fees.

Transport via Russia currently runs in just one direction, but Moscow and NATO agreed last year that ISAF will be able to reverse transit its property out of Afghanistan via the Ulyanovsk hub.

ISAF has about 100,000 containers to ship out of Afghanistan as part of the pullout, which is to end next year.