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Russian territory could be used for NATO supplies to Afghanistan

RIA Novosti

20/03/2008 16:42 MOSCOW, March 20 (RIA Novosti) - Russia may allow its land and airspace to be used as a transit route for NATO-led counter-terrorism operation supplies to Afghanistan, a senior defense official said on Thursday.

"If a decision is made on transit through the territory of Russia, we are ready to participate in it," said Maj. Gen. Boris Svistkov, head of the Defense Ministry's main directorate for military transport services.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on March 18 following his meeting in Moscow with the U.S. secretaries of state and defense that Russia was considering the issue of providing logistics support to counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. A decision is expected soon.

Several years ago Russia permitted military transit for French and German military contingents deployed in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, where the hard-line Islamic Taliban regime was overthrown in a 2001 U.S.-led campaign, has seen a rise in violence in recent months. The country is also the world's leader in the illegal opium trade, with huge areas of its arable land sown with poppies.

Moscow has denied rumors however that Russian troops could be sent to Afghanistan to aid NATO forces against Taliban militants in a purported deal that would see the military alliance refusal membership to the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine.

The report first surfaced in the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper earlier this week, and led to demonstrations in Afghanistan.

However, the first deputy press secretary of the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, said on Tuesday in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station that the rumors that Russia would send troops to the country were 'absolutely untrue'.

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