Russia’s Policy in Afghanistan

by Sami Burgaz

By: Meryem Betül KEBAP

Tension has been increasing in Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal. Escalated influence of Taliban in the region left behind by the United States has caused concerns among regional states. Russia has alleged that it sees the presence of American troops in the region as an obstacle to promote peace and those troops should withdraw from Afghanistan.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also told reporters that Russia would not send troops to Afghanistan. However, Russia has expressed its concerns as ISIS began to gain ground in Northern Afghanistan. Conflicts in the region have often violated the borders of the regional states. In response to the growing security threats in the region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that “If necessary, Russia will send troops to Tajikistan to protect the interests of our allies”. This approach has raised eyebrows about Russia’s Afghanistan policy.

In this context, The Asia Today Editorial Board has gathered opinions from the experts on Afghanistan policy of Russia.

Mr. Khalid Taimur Akram, Executive Director, Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad, Pakistan

Mr. Khaled Taimur stated that Central Asian states cannot handle the instability caused by the US withdrawal without an external support, so Russia’s support is needed for them. He said, “Afghanistan has been engulfed by the complexities of war for many decades. It had been envisaged by the international community that the complete withdrawal of the American troops would create a vacuum in the country while enabling Taliban to spread and take complete control of Afghanistan. The security situation in Afghanistan can signal more strife for its neighbours because of the rapid deterioration caused by the recent withdrawal of U.S troops. Hundreds of Afghan servicemen have crossed the border of Tajikistan in response to spread of Taliban. Therefore, Tajikistan requested a Russia-led bloc for help on the Afghan border.”

Taimur stressed the need of Russia’s contributions to the peace process in the region, and said that “Russia is one of the major stakeholders in the Afghan Peace Process and encourages a constructive solution to end the civil war in Afghanistan. The country has reaffirmed its support for the Afghan Peace Process and expressed concerns on the rise of terrorist and extremist activities in Afghanistan. Russia also held a one-day meeting of the “extended troika” in March, hosting the sympathizers of Taliban and the Afghan government, as well as Pakistani, Chinese and US representatives, in an effort to spur the peace process.

Russia is aware about the Afghan situation, which has a tendency to swiftly deteriorate including withdrawal of the American and other NATO troops. In this aspect, Russia is ready to provide assistance to its allies, including using the capabilities of the Russian military base on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan, to prevent any aggressive movement towards its partners.”

Zhumabek Sarabekov (Foreign Relations Expert at the Institute of World Economics and Politics (IWEP))

Sarabekov stated that Russia wants to strengthen its influence over Central Asian countries by permeating their economic weakness with military power: “In general, regarding the current situation, Russia adheres to several action plans at once. First of all, Moscow is trying to use the current situation to strengthen its influence in Central Asia. It is known that the security track is an important advantage of the Russian Federation over other regional players in Central Asia. Moscow has been playing the role of one of the key security suppliers here for a long period of time.

To some extent, Russia is trying to compensate for the lack of its economic power with military components. Therefore, it is logical that Moscow will try to strengthen cooperation with Central Asian states through Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), while simultaneously strengthening its military bases in the region.”Sarabekov stated that Russia stresses its role as a guarantor of peace in the region and thinks that the negotiation process with Taliban will increase its effectiveness in regional politics.

By his words: “In this regard, we can draw attention to the fact that Russian experts are promoting through very alarmist media for the further development of the current situation in Afghanistan, thereby emphasizing the role of Moscow as a guarantor of stability. At the same time, Russia is trying to negotiate with the Taliban movement and agrees on the balance of future forces in Afghan politics. It is clear that Moscow sees this as an opportunity to expand its role in regional politics. In addition, Russia is trying to present the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan as a defeat for the West.”

Dr. Siddhard (Montu) Saxena, Director at Cambridge Central Asia Forum

Dr. Saxena noted the motivations of global and regional actors for understanding the situation in Afghanistan and stated that, “When thinking about the situation unravelling in Afghanistan, we have to consider two factors, motivation of global powers and motivations of regional powers. As a secondary effect, the motivation of regional powers that are also global powers needs to be understood. For the first point, Russia and China have been kept out by the Western Global powers in seeking sustainable solutions, so they are now finding both institutional and political engagement in Afghanistan very challenging due to the rapid withdrawal of Western forces.  On the one hand, they are happy that their global competitors are leaving the region, but on the other, they are not fully prepared to fill in the void that is left by US led NATO presence. In this regard, the role of regional countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan becomes critical, as these countries have close ties with Afghanistan, Russia and China based on mutual but different common interest regimes. Russia’s plan thus is very pragmatic; it needs to ensure the security of the region, without interfering with local countries’ relationships and their potential role in the stability of the region. My prognosis is that Russia will help and support the regional countries to build their own security, economic and political capacities to be constrictive actors in Afghanistan. On the question of Taliban, Russia and China have understood and accepted the significant role of Taliban as a major, if not dominant, political power holder in Afghanistan in contrast to the mixed opinion in Brussels and London.”

Ambassador Omar SAMAD, Atlantic Council

Omar Samad stated that Russia is using its traditional ties to ensure that the region is free from terrorist groups and is promoting the security of the Asian states, hence Russia is closely watching the developments in the region. Mr. Samad noted that, “Listening to Russian official commentaries in the past few days, we can see that not unlike other immediate and regional neighbours of Afghanistan, Russia is watching Afghan military and political developments very closely in order to assure the fragile security and stability of Central Asia. With the sudden resurgence of Taliban and government’s loss of control of many districts across Afghanistan, especially in the country’s northern and western regions, Russia is also using its traditional ties to several Central Asian nations to bolster security along the Afghan border. By doing that, Russia aims to prevent the movement of opportunistic transnational terrorist groups and Central Asian militant groups that may still be using Afghan hideouts or deploy units to that region from other destinations. Using its ties with Tajikistan and other bordering states where the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are deployed, Russia is mindful also for refugee influxes, illegal criminal group activities from the Afghan fallout. The same can be said for Iran, China (that has a small border in the Pamir range of mountains) and even Pakistan, a traditional supporter of the Taliban.”

On the other hand, he drew attention to Taliban’s gains and stated that “For their part, Taliban have sent delegations to Iran and Russia to assure those governments for their cooperation in maintaining security along the border regions. Taliban have also captured the border customs and overland port facilities with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran so far. This gives them added advantage as they control the flow of trade, transit and revenues that Kabul has lost.”

He stated that Russia desires to have a temporary catch-all government which also encompasses Taliban in order to assure ceasefire. He concluded his opinion as follows: “At this stage, Russia is calling for an end to hostilities inside the country and as a part of the Troika (US, Russia and China) which is in favour of intra-Afghan political talks leading to a transition and interim broad-based government in Kabul that could assure a nationwide ceasefire as Afghan factions settle their longstanding disputes and agree to a power-sharing or other type of political order. As US and NATO forces end their military presence in Afghanistan by the end of August, neighbouring states fear of an increase in violence leading to civil war and regional hedging. Many hope that Afghans can agree on a political roadmap to peace and stability as the military equation shifts inside the country and the neighbours are forced to adopt prevaricate strategies.”

Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Asia Today.


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