The operation by international forces in Afghanistan under NATO auspices began in October 2001 in response to the terrorist attacks in the United States committed on Sep 11, 2001. By December 2001, the North Atlantic Alliance had received support from the UN Security Council as a guarantor of peace and stability in the region. We can now say with confidence that the American military campaign in Afghanistan has not solved the problems it confronted. However, the establishment of the United States continues to insist on the overriding importance of the NATO mission and the need of Russian support for the coalition. Over the eight years of the war, Moscow’s attitude towards NATO’s Afghan campaign has changed profoundly, from enthusiastic support to skepticism.
The operation in Afghanistan is conducted with Moscow’s support
Moscow has supported the international forces from the very beginning of the operation. On October 8, 2001 Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement recognizing the Taliban as an extremist and terrorist organization: “The Taliban regime not only wages war against its own people and the legitimate government, it has also alienated itself from the international community. Terrorists responsible for crimes in many countries, including Russia, have found refuge in Taliban-controlled territory.” Military experts believe that without Russia’s assistance NATO would have been unable to quickly destroy the terrorist bases. There are unconfirmed but reliable reports that Russia shared intelligence data on Afghanistan as part of the counterterrorist coalition with NATO countries, primarily with Germany and Canada, which are playing a key role in providing security in that country.
Why is Russia so positive concerning the emergence of a rival military bloc on its borders and the establishment by the United States of a number of military bases in Central Asian countries? The prevailing opinion in Russia since 2001 is that the occupation of Afghanistan by the international coalition forces is in Moscow’s interest, since it eliminates the southern threat to the post-Soviet space. Indeed, for a long time the politicization of Islam and religious extremism in the Middle East have been considered Russia’s main enemy. It is no secret that many international terrorists have taken part in combat operations in both Afghanistan and Chechnya; one example is the infamous Amir Khattab. Apparently that would bring Moscow and Washington closer together against the common enemy. Lobbyists for the United States in Russia actively support this point of view, since any attempt by Russia to independently cooperate with Islamic countries is seen by supporters of political globalization under NATO auspices as a potential danger.
One of the main proponents of the theory that “NATO protects us against Taliban terrorists” is Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO, who said: “If Russia backs down and runs away from Afghanistan then we, as neighboring countries, will be faced with a catastrophic situation in this country.” According to Rogozin, if we do that the Taliban will move to the north—into Central Asia and, possibly, into the Caucasus. “And that will be a global headache.” Indeed, the cooperation between Russia and NATO on Afghanistan is the sole example of the establishment of non-confrontational relations between the two parties. In July 2009 Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev concluded an agreement concerning the use of Russian airspace to transport military equipment and personnel to reinforce American and NATO military forces in Afghanistan. According to the White House, the agreement provides for up to 4500 overflights per year, which will give the Americans an annual savings of $133 million for fuel, maintenance and other transportation costs. Another proposal was made in October 2009. At the monthly press conference in Brussels, NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that it is in Moscow’s interests to assist NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Russia could equip Afghan security forces and train Afghan army soldiers. More specific proposals, namely provision of fuel and helicopters, were discussed at a meeting between the Alliance’s General Secretary and President Medvedev in the Kremlin on December 4, 2009.
Why has Washington suddenly and unexpectedly expressed a clear interest in drawing Moscow into the operation? Could the NATO forces have finally recognized that they cannot solve their problems and decided to hold a dialogue with Russia on an equal basis?
To be continued…
Alexander Sotnichenko is a Candidate of History, senior analyst of the Saint-Petersburg Modern Middle East Research Centre.