Saturday, March 15, 2008

Russia To Step Back Into Afghanistan?

The biggest news to come out of the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest may be an announcement of Russian participation in Afghanistan.

The story has been kicking around for a few weeks, largely treated as rumour, but now, according to Asia Times and other journalistic sources, this seems to be turning into reality:

Russia may be about to join hands with NATO in Afghanistan. A clearer picture will emerge out of the intensive consultations of the foreign and defense ministers of Russia and the United States within the so-called "2+2" format due to take place in Moscow from Monday through Tuesday next week. From the guarded comments by both sides and the flurry of US diplomatic activity, it appears highly probable that Russia is being brought into the solution of the Afghanistan problem, along with NATO.

According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant and the Financial Times of London, the initiative came from Russia when its new ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin - erstwhile Russian politician with a controversial record as a staunch Russian nationalist who routinely berated the West - signaled a strong interest in this area at a recent meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at Brussels. The plan involves Russia providing a land corridor for NATO to transport its goods - "non-military materials" - destined for the mission in Afghanistan. Intensive talks have been going on since then over a framework agreement.

From the feverish pace of diplomatic activity, the expectation of the two sides seems to be that an agreement could be formalized at NATO's Bucharest summit. In an interview with German publication Der Spiegel on Monday, Rogozin confirmed this expectation, saying, "We [Russia] support the anti-terror campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. I hope we can manage to reach a series of very important agreements with our Western partners at the Bucharest summit. We will demonstrate that we are ready to contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan."

The implications are obvious. Russia would be willing to cooperate with NATO, but on an equal and comprehensive basis, and, secondly, the sort of selective engagement of Russia by NATO that the US has been advocating will be unacceptable to Moscow. Significantly, Putin frontally questioned the standing of NATO's monopoly of conflict resolution in Afghanistan.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has also separately signaled Russia's readiness to provide military transit to Afghanistan for NATO provided "an agreement is concluded on all aspects of the Afghan problem between NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO]". Significantly, Lavrov was speaking immediately after the 7th session of the Russian-French Cooperation Council on Security Issues in Paris on Tuesday. He asserted that "most NATO members, including France", favor Moscow's idea of a NATO-CSTO cooperative framework over Afghanistan. Lavrov all but suggested that Washington was blocking such cooperation between NATO and the Russian-led CSTO."

But cooperation with Russia involves NATO embarking on cooperation with CSTO and possibly with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well. (Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, addressing the Security Council in New York on Wednesday, proposed that for effectively combating drug trafficking originating from Afghanistan, a system of security rings promoted by Russia in the Central Asian region in recent years would be useful and that the potential of CSTO and SCO should be utilized.)

What worries the US is that any such link up between NATO and CSTO and SCO would undermine its "containment" policy toward Russia (and China), apart from jeopardizing the US global strategy of projecting NATO as a political organization on the world arena.

The most damaging part is that Russia-NATO cooperation will inevitably strengthen Russia's ties with European countries and that, in turn, would weaken the US's trans-Atlantic leadership role in the 21st century. "

Completely by chance, this story neatly dovetails with (and corroborates) the following opinion piece concerning US dependence on NATO to maintain its global stature.


LeDaro said...

Yep, that should upset Dubya ;)

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi LD. Yes, I expect it will. For some unfathomable reason, Shrub has been incredibly persistent at goading Putin. I've never understood what he hoped to gain by it. What is apparent is that this president was never the intellectual equal of his Russian counterpart. Putin is a very dangerous character because he's so bright and pragmatic. Bush is a very dangerous character because he's so dim and ideologically driven.