MOSCOW — Russian Communists on April 7 protested plans to create a NATO cargo transit base on the Volga River, calling it an “ulcer” on Russia’s territory.
About 1,500 people gathered in the central Pushkin Square in Moscow with red balloons, flags and banners, while smaller rallies were held in many regional cities to protest what Communists call a “betrayal” of national interests.
Russia recently said that it was looking into NATO’s request to use the Vostochny airport near Ulyanovsk, a city about 550 miles east of Moscow, as a transit hub for non-lethal cargo shipped from Afghanistan.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov attacked “NATO occupation of the Volga” and called upon supporters to foil the plans to set up the base, which he said would become “a major drug trafficking point.”
“An ulcer is forming in the center of Russia, which will not only be a transit base for military cargo, but also one of the main drug dens on our territory,” Zyuganov said at the rally.
“We have to say a decisive ‘no’ to this betrayal of national interests.”
In Ulyanovsk, people marched through the city with anti-NATO banners, RIA-Novosti agency reported.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said April 5 that if the government allowed the transit operation, “it would be under complete customs control of the Russian Federation, and without civilian or military NATO presence.”
Ulyanovsk regional governor Sergei Morozov also tried to assuage fears April 6 by saying that “Ulyanovsk will not have any military base or any NATO military objects.”
“Non-military cargo will go through there. It will be done by Russian planes with Russian crews,” he said in a special address, adding that the issue is being used by “political populists” to rouse protest sentiments.
Ulyanovsk, a city on the Volga River, is the birthplace of communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, whose birth name was Ulyanov, and therefore has a symbolic significance for Russia’s weakened but still sizeable Communist party.