NATO Hub in Ulyanovsk: Business or Surrender?
Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party in parliament, has published a statement denouncing the Russian authorities on his party’s website. He writes that the Russian leaders are preparing to “approve the establishment of a transshipment base in Ulyanovsk for the transit of NATO cargo from Afghanistan.”
“For the first time in the history of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, the country will host a foreign base. Moreover, it will be a base of the military bloc which the majority of the population rightfully sees as hostile,” the Communist leader writes.
It may be true that NATO is seen as a hostile bloc in Russia, although nobody has polled Russians on this issue, so everyone is free to say what they want. No one can prove that they are lying.
As for the allegation that Russia never hosted foreign bases, I would like to remind the Communist leader that the Soviet Union hosted secret USAAF Station 559 near Poltava, Ukraine, during World War II. American heavy bombers stationed in Britain and Italy, which flew bombing missions in the Nazi-occupied territory (Romania), did not have enough fuel for flying back, so they landed at Soviet airfields in Myrhorod (USAAF Station 561) and Pyriatyn (USAAF Station 560) to rest, rearm and refuel before attacking other targets on the way home.
There was also an airfield in Chukotka, where U.S. aircraft supplied under the lend-lease agreements landed, and the ports of Vladivostok, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk where the allies’ military convoys headed from San Francisco and Portsmouth, losing their ships, their cargo and the lives of hundreds of crewmembers to German and Japanese attacks on their way. Many will note that we were allies at the time, fighting a common enemy, Nazism. But has the situation changed that much?
Today Russia is helping the U.S. and NATO forces, which are fighting against international terrorism in Afghanistan. Is not terrorism a common enemy? Only very conservative people stuck in the ideological confrontation of the Cold War period would dispute this.
The situation has changed dramatically, and although Russia may not see eye-to-eye with the Untied States and NATO on many issues, including ballistic missile defense, we are partners in the struggle against terrorism, religious extremism, drug trafficking, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology. There are many common threats that can be countered only through joint effort. Allowing NATO to use Vostochny Airport in Ulyanovsk is Russia’s contribution to the fight against these threats, in particular the threat of international terrorism in Afghanistan.
The Ulyanovsk transit hub will receive mostly the An-124 and Il-76 planes of the Russian Volga-Dnepr carrier, which NATO frequently uses for cargo deliveries. So it cannot be described as a military base, and not only because Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich have pledged that no NATO military personnel will be deployed there permanently. Another reason is that it is a commercial hub combining air, rail and road transportation.
For example, a plane brings non-military cargo (anything ranging from toilet paper to mattresses) to the airport, where it is reloaded to railroad platforms or trailers for onward delivery to Riga, Latvia, or Tallinn, Estonia, where it will be reloaded onto a bulk carrier and head for its destination. If a plane brings military personnel to Ulyanovsk, they will be unarmed – their weapons are to be delivered separately in sealed containers. They will then board another plane headed to their destination.
So who stands to lose in this deal? Vostochny Airport, which belongs to a local aircraft manufacturing plant and was built as a reserve airfield for the Buran shuttle missions, had very little business before. Now it will have a packed schedule and new jobs, resulting in more people that are earning a salary and paying taxes to the local budget. Ulyanovsk will receive a substantial payment for servicing the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Local customs officials will not stand idle either: they will scrutinize every kilogram and ton of cargo passing through the hub, looking for drugs and other illegal and suspicious items.
This is business, plain and simple. Why is the Communist leader protesting against something that will benefit his country in general and the city of Ulyanovsk in particular?
That being said, the United States and NATO should reciprocate with commensurate moves. There could be a number of such steps, but that is the subject for another article.
Viktor Litovkin is Executive editor of Independent Military Review
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.