Russia is genuinely concerned that America is losing it in Afghanistan

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Russia is genuinely concerned that America is losing it in Afghanistan

Russia is worried that a NATO and America pull out in Afghanistan will leave Moscow alone, as it tries to stop the spread of Islamic militants into Central Asia and even Russia itself.

Russia is allowing US military equipment destined for Afghanistan to pass through Russian airspace without charging a transit fee, thereby saving the Pentagon an estimated $133 million per year. Some in Washington and other Western capitals hope Moscow’s stance is a harbinger of broader US-Russian cooperation to come, especially on Iran. But others suspect the Kremlin has ulterior motives, wanting to trade cooperation on the Afghan re-supply effort for American acquiescence to a controlling role for Russia in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

So what will Russian-American cooperation on Afghanistan actually lead to--greater Russian cooperation with America and the West, or greater Russian efforts to take advantage of American and Western geostrategic vulnerabilities? The answer, in my view, is: neither.

Recent Russian press commentary about developments in Afghanistan indicates that Moscow is increasingly fearful that the US and NATO will withdraw from Afghanistan, thus leaving Moscow alone, as it tries to stop the spread of Islamic militants into Central Asia and even Russia itself.

It also reveals that Russian cooperation on Afghanistan does not appear likely to result in Moscow’s support for American and Western policies in other areas, in particular on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.

Far from seeing US/NATO problems in Afghanistan as an opportunity to increase Russian influence in Central Asia, Russian officials and commentators see the increasing difficulties that American and NATO troops are facing on the ground as a threat to Russian interests in Central Asia.

A hasty American exit from Afghanistan could open the way for a doomsday scenario for Central Asia, warned Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, in a statement carried September 7 by the Itar-Tass news agency. Russia must consider the possibility that "NATO will quickly pack up and run from Afghanistan, and we will get a real problem -- the boorish Taliban that has grown both quantitatively and qualitatively," Rogozin cautioned.

In a subsequent statement reported by Itar-Tass on September 18, Rogozin noted that while Russia won’t send soldiers to Afghanistan again,
... Quote:
If NATO fails and leaves Afghanistan, [its] neighbors and us will witness a catastrophe: The Taliban and other religious extremists will be inspired by their success and spread in every direction, including Central Asia and our [i.e. Russia’s] Caucasus.
Far from expressing self-confidence about Russia being a great power intent on taking advantage of a quagmire in Afghanistan, statements such as these constitute a frank admission that the American and Western military presence in Afghanistan is protecting Russian security interests. Moscow’s support for the continued US/NATO presence in Afghanistan appears to be motivated more by fear than by hubris on the Kremlin’s part.

Any policymaker in Washington and other Western capitals who hopes that US-Russian cooperation against the Taliban will foster a similar joint commitment to contain the millennial-minded regime in Iran is fooling themselves. Russia shows little inclination of going along with Washington’s toughening line toward Tehran.

It appears to boil down to a difference of perceptions. Many in the Obama Administration see preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as being both in Russia’s and the West’s interests. But Moscow doesn’t share that opinion. First, the Kremlin thinks Iran is less of a global threat than Washington does. Second, Moscow has benefited from the status quo, selling arms, nuclear reactors, and other goods to Iran amid the escalation of tension between Tehran and the West.

Moscow fears that any change in current geopolitical conditions -- such as the sudden fall of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, or a rapprochement between the United States and Iran -- would be damaging to Russia’s financial interests in Iran.

Finally, Russian leaders seem to be calculating that if Iran is going to acquire nuclear weapons anyway, the Kremlin has little to gain, and a lot to lose, by joining in a futile Western attempt to prevent Tehran from achieving its goal.

In Moscow, there is optimistic talk about how Afghan cooperation might cause the Obama administration to show greater appreciation for the Kremlin’s priorities, in particular on the matter of Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO, as well as on the issue of anti-missile systems in Central Europe.

Such thinking may have even increased following the Obama administration’s decision to cancel the Bush-era anti-missile shield that was to be deployed in the Czech Republic and Poland. In reality, however, Russia’s opinion was not really a factor in Obama’s decision. The Obama administration’s growing concern about the Iranian threat dictated the change.
By netchicken: posted on 29-9-2009

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