The transit center in Ulyanovsk, Russia, which was supposed to be used to deliver cargoes from Afghanistan, still remains unused. Last year, there was quite a media hype in about the news: "NATO base in the heart of Russia" newspaper headlines said.
According to the Kommersant newspaper, NATO countries have not signed any contract with Russian carriers that had been authorized to serve the transit center in Ulyanovsk. In Brussels, officials complain of high prices set by the carriers: 50,000 euros per one container. Flying through Uzbekistan is cheaper - they ask 30,000.
Moscow believes that NATO is afraid of becoming dependent. Russia may use the transit center to show influence on the alliance, NATO officials believe, but the Russian government considers such an assumption "nonsense."
Let us briefly recall the background of the issue. The agreement on the establishment of a transit center based at Ulyanovsk - East airport was signed last year. It was assumed that through the center NATO would be delivering goods from Afghanistan.
Officials from both Moscow and NATO headquarters have repeatedly stressed that there will not be any tanks or guns in transit cargoes. Naturally, there were no talks about building a base on the territory of Russia. In other words, there would be no NATO troops at the base, not to mention the fact that the base would remain under the Russian jurisdiction. Nothing like that was discussed at all.
The idea of the transit center came up after another wave of unrest in Pakistan that followed a U.S. drone attack on the country. The authorities of Pakistan threatened to restrict the transit of NATO cargoes to Afghanistan. The center in Russia's Ulyanovsk was some sort of a back up. Now there are no problems with transit through Pakistan.
It should be noted that the talks about the establishment of a transit center were conducted against the background of quite a hysterical campaign under the slogan: "NATO boots will not trample on the Russian land!"
Communists played the first violin, who held several protests both in Ulyanovsk and other Russian cities. They were remembered for the fight between Left Front coordinator Sergei Udaltsov and a female activist of one of the youth movements during a meeting in Ulyanovsk. As a result, Udaltsov had serious problems with law.
In general, the story of "a NATO base in Russia" proved to be nothing special at all.
The head of the Center for Military Forecasts, Anatoly Tsyganok, believes that the absence of demand on the transit center in Ulyanovsk is based on a number of reasons. There are political problems here - in the relations between Russia and the U.S. regarding issues of missile defense, Syria etc. Economic problems are also present: Russian companies can indeed set high prices on transit. Although, according to Anatoly Tsiganok, Pakistan goes in the same direction in this regard.
"There is another very important point here. When the agreement with Russia about the provision of the air corridor was signed, the Americans strengthened cooperation with the countries of Central and Middle Asia. Moreover, they now cooperate with Kazakhstan quite well," the expert told Pravda.Ru. According to him, "the motivation is very simple - the Americans do not need to withdraw their equipment to dispose of it."
"It is a lot easier to simply leave it all in the countries of the Central and Middle Asia. Firstly, it needs to be repaired, which is very advantageous to the Americans, and secondly, there is no need to decommission anything," said Anatoly Tsyganok.
Chief editor of National Defense magazine, Igor Korotchenko, believes the current state of affairs about the transit center in Russia is typical in many respects. "We proposed a business project, but NATO does not want to use our services. In other words, NATO does not want the money allocated for Afghan transit to stay in Russia. They say that transportation costs are too high, but logistics has been calculated in detail. We have market prices, and I do not think that they are so over the top for NATO troops and countries," the expert told Pravda.Ru.
In his opinion, "this is another manifestation of double standards of the West regarding cooperation with Russia."
"If we had not provided them the opportunity, they would have immediately accused us of our unwillingness to cooperate. Now that we've given this opportunity to them, they say they do not want to be dependent on Russia," said Igor Korotchenko.