The Russian Gamble in Afghanistan

Written by Rayomand Bhacka
Image source: Google Images

Congruent to its current Foreign Policies pursued by Putin, Russian aims in Afghanistan have deeply been influenced by the course of its history, right from the days of Tsarist Russia.

Since then, Afghanistan has been a cause of contention between Russia and the Western Powers. One such notable incident relating to Russia’s historical involvement in Afghanistan is the military mission carried out by Major General Stoletov towards Kabul in 1878, during the ‘Great Game’ of the Near East between Russia and the British Empire. At the time, both Britain and Russia were involved, with other powers in Europe, in the Berlin Congress. This visit was just a means of warning the British Empire through the Russian might widely displayed by Stoletov. At the time, Russia was a monarchy in a highly volatile Europe.

The current Russo-Afghan policy reflects Russia’s permanent as well as temporary goals.

Under this Russia intends to stamp a permanent influence in Afghanistan while also preventing the United States from establishing any bases and maintaining any influence on Afghan soil. In terms of temporary interests, Putin seeks to topple the authority of the United States in Russia’s backyard whilst severing Russo-American relations once again. Additionally, Putin also foresees a larger role to be played by the Taliban in securing Russian ambitions in the region, propelling him to maintain good ties with the Taliban leaders.

One of Russia’s main interests in Afghanistan is maintaining stability and security along the Afghan-Central Asian border, which has turned out to be Putin’s area of excellence.

Moreover, three of its regional neighbours in Central Asia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan form a pro-Russia coalition of allies under the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union. The former is Russia’s primary military alliance, whose existence was penned down in May of 1992. Presently, it consists of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Whereas the Eurasian Economic Union is an intergovernmental organization for economic unity in Eurasia spearheaded by Russia and established through a treaty system in 2014. Presently, it consists of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. 

A subordinate aim of Russia is to neutralise Afghanistan so that it does not lean towards any power and is not used as a launch base by other nations, especially emphasising on the United States.

Besides, just like China, India and Pakistan, Russia considers Afghanistan’s geographic location as a magnet for transport and energy investments since it wants to play an emerging leader type role in Eurasia with competitors in Turkey, Central Asia and the Caspian and Black Sea regions. Although Putin doesn’t have a strong financial and economic hold on Afghanistan, he does try to make sure that Russia’s economic interests are secured when there’s a peace deal between the rival factions. Besides acting as a stable buffer keeping U.S influence out of its neighbourhood, Afghanistan does not serve a bigger purpose for Russia.

Since the late 1990s, Russia has been able to predict certain central threats emerging from Afghanistan. They include its viable position to be: an exporter of radical Islamist ideologies, terror and drugs, a launchpad for the influx of Islamic Militants across Central Asia. Thereby posing security threats to Central Asian borders, and a launch base for American troops in the Near East, they consider it to be a heavy impact on security considerations in Russia’s Central Asian neighbourhood. However, taking the contemporary world order into consideration, cross-border terrorism (as professed by Russia in terms of the Taliban) in Central Asia was a real concern only about a decade ago. It could be presumed that their current levels are potentially just being exaggerated by the Russian Generals to collect sufficient pretexts for their not so important intervention in Afghanistan, against American interests.

Thus, it clearly certifies the fact that Russia would never ever experience a full-scale military threat from the Taliban in the upcoming years of global turmoil.

That is to say, even if the Taliban capture Kabul, gain immense power and lay their hands on the northernmost Afghan provinces, they wouldn’t be able to pose a significant military threat to Russia. Hence a Russian involvement in the Afghan Peace Process won’t just be dangerous but also useless for Russian interests in its direct neighbourhood. Instead, Russia should embrace a safer approach to Afghanistan whereby it builds a good rapport with future Afghan leaders and opens up cooperation with those Afghan ethnicities which are not involved in a direct military confrontation against Russia. Besides, Russia’s intervention can facilitate the important purpose of eliminating the practice of Drug Trafficking from Afghanistan, thereby reducing drug usages within its lands, which is one of the top domestic priorities for Russia.

Moscow has one of the highest levels of Narcotics consumption on a per capita scale, a major part of which comes from Afghanistan through the drug sales facilitated by the Taliban regime, as discussed earlier. 

In this regard, Moscow also criticized the Afghan National Government for not being able to deal with the problem of Drug Trafficking.

In 2010, Russian officials submitted the data of drug barons from Central Asia as well as about 175 narcotics laboratories in Afghanistan to the U.S Office of National Drugs Control Policy as well as NATO, urging a quick eradication of poppy fields in Afghanistan which is used by the Taliban to manufacture opium. Since this was the sole source of livelihood for Afghan peasants, the allied forces and the Afghan Government denied this request. Nevertheless, the U.S collaborated with Russia on missions to destroy certain drug laboratories on the Durand line.

However, Putin’s real motives behind this strategy do not just pertain to health issues but also to an instrument used to target the United States during ‘Information Confrontations’ while Moscow accused the U.S of being thoroughly involved in Drug Trafficking.

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