As the US gears up for withdrawal of its its troops from Afghanistan, which will begin in July, RFE/RL quotes Frants Klintsevich, who served as a colonel during the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and now heads up Russia’s Union of Afghan Veterans as saying that ‘as soon as the Americans and Europeans leave, the Taliban will crack down on everything’.
Hardly an outcome likely to please Russia, which is battling an ongoing Islamic insurgency within its own borders. The idea of having radical Islam return to the war-ravaged state is scarcely palatable for Moscow, who may well fear that the rebels currently undermining the Kremlin’s position in the North Caucasus would find economic and spiritual sustenance in a re-emergent neighboring caliphate. Today Reuters examines how Russia plans to establish a foothold in the territory:
Long indirectly involved in Afghan affairs throughsupporting foreign operations, Russia is now pursuing “independentengagement”, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on Afghanistan andfellow at the Brookings Institution.
“Russia’s primary objectiveis to avoid having civil war, instability and leakages into Central Asiaand into Russia itself,” Felbab-Brown told Reuters from Washington.
Moscow has also been courting Pakistan, seen as instrumental to peaceplans in Afghanistan, where some 15,000 Soviet soldiers died fightingmujahideen insurgents before pulling out in 1989.
“Russia certainly does not want America to remain in the region,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs. “At the same time, there is also the concern that the U.S. departure, particularly a swift one, will make the situation much more difficult”.
Moscow also hopes to be involved in several economic projects, including a proposed gas pipeline and hydroelectric power facilities in Kabul. Russia has said it would rebuild Soviet-era infrastructure, which it built in the 1950s-1970s, if the international community footed the bill.
Russia’s crippling drugs crisis and a looming HIV/AIDS epidemic have also reignited Moscow’s interest in Afghan intervention. A quarter of all Afghan heroin reaches Russia through Central Asia, making it the largest per capita user in the world with up to 3 million addicts.
Though Russia has vowed repeats of a joint raid with the U.S. last year, in which they destroyed four drug labs and a tonne of heroin near the Afghan border with Pakistan, it also disagrees with its Cold War foe over local drug output.
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