Russia to offer air base to US for Afghan transit

A new deal allowing the United States and its NATO allies to use a Russian air base for transit of troops and military cargo to Afghanistan would help ensure Russia's own security, Russia's foreign minister said Wednesday.

Sergey Lavrov said a plan to permit the U.S. and other NATO nations to use the base in the city of Ulyanovsk on the Volga River will soon be considered by the Russian Cabinet.

Moscow has provided the U.S. and other NATO member states with air corridors and railway routes for carrying supplies to and from Afghanistan. The new deal would for the first time allow alliance members to set up a logistics facility for troops and cargo on Russian territory.

Lavrov strongly defended the deal, saying the success of NATO's mission is essential for fending off the spread of terrorism and illegal drugs from Afghanistan into ex-Soviet Central Asian nations and Russia.

"It's in our interests that the coalition achieves a success before withdrawing and make sure that the Afghans are capable of defending their country and ensuring an acceptable level of security," Lavrov told the lower house of Russia's legislature. Some lawmakers argued that the U.S. military's use of the Ulyanovsk facility could threaten Russia by allowing foreign troops on its soil.

"We want those who are fending off threats directed at Russia to efficiently fulfill their tasks," Lavrov said. "We are helping the coalition to proceed from our own interests."

The foreign minister said the deal to be considered by the Cabinet would allow the transit of NATO troops but that they wouldn't be allowed to stay there.

"They aren't going to live there. They will only be moving from one transportation means to another," Lavrov said. He sought to assuage the lawmakers' concern by saying that Russia would reserve the right to check the cargo, but provide specifics about the deal.

The proposal comes at a time when the U.S. government has concerns about its supply options to coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with Kyrgyzstan's leaders to stress that America needs the continued use of the U.S. air base there beyond the end of its contract in 2014, largely as a transit center to bring troops home from Afghanistan.