Russia envoy warns NATO on air space to Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) - Russia threatened to block NATO from using its air space for operations in Afghanistan if member states did not stop “hostile” policies toward Moscow, the Kremlin’s top diplomat in Kabul said.

Afghans gather near the site of a suicide car bomb as a NATO helicopter flies over in Kabul September 21, 2007. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

“(Russian air space) is still open, but if the NATO countries continue to their hostile policies with regard to Russia, definitely this issue will happen,” Zamir Kabulov told BBC radio in an interview aired on Thursday.

NATO imports most of its logistics via Pakistan to Afghanistan, but also uses Russia’s air space for some cargo.

The 26-member alliance upset Russia by saying its use of force in a brief war with Georgia last month was disproportionate. NATO has also said Georgia will eventually be allowed join the alliance. Russia is fiercely opposed to further NATO expansion.

NATO was not immediately available for comment.

Kabulov said the United States had made far too many mistakes since toppling the Taliban government in 1991.

“The main one ... is that it did not work with the Afghan government and the Afghan nation,” Kabulov said.

“During the past 6-½ years, instead of strengthening the Afghan government, the Afghan armed forces and the Afghan economy, they strengthened their military presence and this is a main and fundamental mistake.”

More than 71,000 foreign troops under the command of NATO and the U.S. military are stationed in Afghanistan where the Taliban has made a come back since 2005.

The former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, pulling its forces out some 10 years later in the face of resistance from mostly Western-backed Afghan factions.

Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Jeremy Laurence