Moscow again eyes Afghanistan 20 years after retreat
Fearful that US failure there could unleash the Taliban and other Islamist insurgencies, Russia may help NATO open a supply line through former Soviet territory.
When the USSR ended its disastrous near decade-long occupation of Afghanistan – the last Soviet troops were extracted 20 years ago Sunday – war hero Gen. Makhmut Gareyev was left behind to advise the Kremlin's client regime on means of survival. He too fled three years later as waves of Islamist rebels, formerly armed by the US, hammered at the gates of Kabul.Skip to next paragraph
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General Gareyev, now president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, believes the perceived threats that originally induced the USSR to invade Afghanistan are still very much alive. The Kremlin leadership feared the spread of Iranian-style Islamist revolution to Soviet central Asia, a challenge that has only grown worse in the interim, and Gareyev says he doubts that the current NATO mission in that region has much chance to deliver long-term stability.
"Nothing can be done in Afghanistan using military means," he says. "If the Americans go on with the policy they have now, it will be useless."
Talks in recent days between US and Russian officials have brought a ray of hope that the two countries may finally begin cooperating on a much-needed transport corridor through former Soviet territory to resupply struggling NATO forces in Afghanistan. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even hinted that an accord on the supply line could signal a wider thaw in relations between Moscow and the Western alliance, which have been frozen since Russia's war with Georgia last summer. But most leading Russian experts, especially those burned by past experiences, like Gareyev, remain dubious about the prospects for eventual US success in Afghanistan and deeply fearful that the consequences of their ultimate failure may fall heavily upon Russia and former Soviet central Asia.
"The consensus of Russian experts is that there is no winning strategy for the US and NATO in Afghanistan," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a top Moscow-based foreign policy journal. "Most believe that, sooner or later, Afghanistan's neighboring countries will face serious challenges from a possible revived Taliban. It means we need to work with the Americans, and find common approaches, but we need to make our own preparations, too."
Crime and militants threaten region
What Russia fears is a revival of the multiple Islamist insurgencies, which it saw as emanating from Taliban-dominated Afghanistan, that nearly overwhelmed former Soviet Tajikistan and Uzbekistan during the 1990s. Militants trained in Afghanistan are also blamed by the Kremlin for turning the rebellious Russian province of Chechnya into an extremist outpost whose terrorists struck repeatedly in the center of Moscow.