Russian hand in Afghanistan – history makes its full circle

Russian news agency reported that several people were arrested in Afghanistan in connection to a terrorist plot. Russian and Tajik citizens were among the arrested. Does that mean Russians are helping the Afghan insurgency against the U.S.? Well, from a typical geopolitics oriented Russian policymaker’s point of view, the ideal situation for Russia would be if the war in Afghanistan lasted for as long as possible, draining the U.S. of its power and preferably resulting in its defeat. Ideally for the Kremlin, the U.S. and the Taliban should fight on equal terms inflicting as much damage to each other as possible.

The rationale behind this view is very straightforward. The U.S. is still much stronger than Russia, so if the U.S. is engaged in a war in Afghanistan, it will have to pay less attention to other areas where Russian interests lie, like the former USSR countries and Europe and so Russia will have leeway to do many things that she would not have been able to do otherwise. There may also be a human dimension attached to this – “let the U.S. break down in Afghanistan, just as we did”. While this last point is not very rational, it is very human, understandable and – I would venture to say – probable.

The only Russian concern about a possible U.S. defeat would be the threat of Islamic insurgency’s spread from Afghanistan into Central Asian states and Kazakhstan. As Russia faces its own insurgency movement in the Northern Caucasus and in general has a sizable Muslim minority of up to 20 million people, many experts say that Russian have vested interest in the U.S. winning the war in Afghanistan and containing the Islamic fundamentalism.

It appears to be a credible outcome at a first glance, but let’s ask ourselves, what would be the alternative to the spread of Islamic fundamentalism into Central Asia and Kazakhstan? The alternative would be the U.S. getting established in the center of Eurasia and inevitably spreading its influence into Central Asia and Kazakhstan. While Russians may hope to be able to contain the Islamists in Central Asia through supporting their cronies’ regimes in the region, they clearly understand, they will not be able to contain the U.S. influence in the region, if the U.S. firmly establishes itself in the region. So, paradoxically, as it may seem to an average U.S. policymaker, Russians are less afraid of the Islamists, than Americans.

Therefore, it is highly likely, that Russians will try to provide some clandestine support to the Taliban and other anti-American forces in Afghanistan.


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