By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
July 6, 2009 - An agreement signed in Moscow today permits the United States to transit troops and weapons across Russian territory en route to Afghanistan. The pact, signed during President Barack Obama's visit to the Kremlin, permits 4,500 flights per year through Russian airspace, and saves the U.S. government $133 million annually in transportation costs while boosting logistical efficiency, according to a White House statement.
"This is a substantial contribution by Russia to our international effort, and it will save the United States time and resources in giving our troops the support that they need," Obama said during a news conference with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.
Following today's meeting between the two presidents, Obama told reporters that he and Medvedev agreed on the need to combat the threat of violent extremism, particularly from al-Qaida. Access to Russian transit routes substantially increases the efficiency of efforts against violent extremism in Afghanistan, the White House statement said.
Obama said Russia's participation and contributions to the effort in Afghanistan have the potential to be "extraordinarily important." More broadly, he said, today's gesture indicates the degree in which Russian-U.S. cooperation could be applied to a host of other international issues.
Underscoring the two countries' mutual interests in Afghanistan, the president cited Moscow's concern about terrorism and the drug trade and their infiltration into Russia. Obama also praised Russia's capabilities in training police and armies, a task that multinational forces are undertaking with Afghanistan's growing national security forces.
Speaking about the future of U.S.-Russian efforts in Afghanistan, Obama expressed optimism that the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission agreement also signed today represents a prelude to closer cooperation.
"Our hope is that as part of the broader presidential commission structure that we've put in place, that we're going to further discuss both the military efforts in Afghanistan, but also the development efforts and the diplomatic efforts, so that we can make progress," he said.
Obama thanked the Russian government for agreeing to the transit arrangement that will "save U.S. troops both time and money."
"And it's, I think, a gesture that indicates the degree to which, in the future, Russian-U.S. cooperation can be extraordinarily important in solving a whole host of these very important international issues," he added.