Russia ratifies military transit deal with U.S.

MOSCOW Fri Feb 25, 2011 11:32am EST

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's parliament approved a deal with the United States on Friday to allow transit for military equipment and personnel across Russia to the NATO force in Afghanistan, easing reliance on Pakistan as a transit route.

The Russian-U.S. transit agreement was drawn up during a trip by President Barack Obama to Russia in 2009 in an effort to 'reset' bilateral relations that had been damaged by a 2008 war between Russia and pro-Western Georgia.

"The agreement between the governments of Russia and the United States regarding the transit of armaments, military equipment and personnel across Russia was ratified," a statement on the website of Russia's lower house of parliament said.

Currently, about 80 percent of NATO's supplies cross through Pakistan. But NATO has been trying to reduce its dependence on convoy routes through Pakistan where they are prey to Islamist militant attacks.

A particularly brazen militant strike last year set ablaze over two dozen tankers.

Moscow said last year the deal could also be expanded to allow vehicles in need of repair and refurbishment to be sent back to NATO countries.

The transit deal stops short of opening the Russian route for weapons for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, where Moscow fought a disastrous 1979-89 war which still haunts Russia and which killed 15,000 Soviet troops.

Russia's NATO envoy has said the deal would not allow NATO to ship tanks or combat-ready armored personnel carriers (APCs) through Russian territory.

Russia began joint anti-drug raids with NATO in Afghanistan late last year, in a sign of further easing ties between the former Cold War foes.

Russia has been vocally critical of what it views as NATO's failure to stem the Afghan opium trade, the bulk of which flows north to Russia through Central Asia's porous borders, fuelling an HIV/AIDS epidemic from heroin addicts who inject the drug.

(Reporting by Maria Tsetkova; Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Jon Hemming)