What Does Russia Want From Afghanistan?

What, exactly, does Russia want from Afghanistan? The question has preoccupied the global media for weeks. Today, two countervailing theories emerge. Notwithstanding the threat of Islamic extremism filtering into the Caucasus, writing in the International Herald Tribune Heritage Foundation fellow Ariel Cohen offers this doomsday logic: Russia actually wants America’s efforts in Afghanistan to fail, so it can secure “payback for the Soviet fiasco in the 1980s…and more importantly…highlight the collapse of NATO power, and with it, America’s global dominance.”

His article continues:

“It comes as no surprise that Russia is moving to secure what Medvedev called ‘the zone of privileged interests’ in his Aug. 31, 2008 speech. This action fits with policies formulated almost two decades ago by Yevgeny Primakov, leader of the so-called Eurasianist school of foreign policy. Many Eurasianists tend to view America as Russia’s strategic adversary.

“Primakov was Boris Yeltsin’s spy chief. In 1994, under his direction, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service published a report calling for Russian domination of the ‘near abroad’ – the newly independent states that emerged from the rubble of the Soviet empire.

“Later, Primakov championed the notion of a multipolar world, in which U.S. influence would be crowded out by Russia, China, India and others. Today, Vladimir Putin and Medvedev are calling for a new geopolitical and economic architecture – not only in Europe but throughout the entire world – based on massive spheres of influence.”

But according to Jean MacKensie of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, this bellicose reasoning seems unlikely, given that Russian and Afghan leaders historically search for common ground in troubled times, and have in recent months exchanged amicable tidings

“In November, Karzai quietly sent a letter to RussianPresident Dmitry Medvedev. While Karzai was not willing to share thecontent, he was more than happy to leak the response he received fromMedvedev.

“According to the Karzai administration, the Russianpresident’s message was full of assurances of friendship and offers ofcooperation on defense.

“Karzai has been quick to capitalize onRussia’s renewed interest in Afghanistan, telling graduates of theNational Military Academy last month that ‘if the United States doesnot help us, we will ask other countries for planes and tanks.’ Whilenot naming his new partner, most observers believe he was referring toRussia.

“Within days, the Afghan Ministry of Defense was announcing that a delegation could soon be traveling to Moscow.”