Cause for Tense Optimism About the Way Forward with Russia

The Liberal Ironist has an update on the previous report on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s agreement to attend the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon November 19th-21st.  The Guardian has extraordiary news about the prospect of Russian rapproachment with NATO.  NATO officials and the Russian government are entertaining a variety of as-yet broad proposals for Russian assistance to the War in Afghanistan.  The measures under consideration include everything from increased access to Afghanistan from the north, logistical support for the war effort, and (if this development is tolerated by the Afghan government) a Russian role in training the Afghan military and security services.

The article points out that Russian cooperation with NATO on the War in Afghanistan is timely both for Russia and the United States.  Russia is dealing with a heroin problem; at least 93% of the World’s opium comes from Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, abiding suspicion between the Afghan and Pakistani governments–and a visible deterioration in relations between the US and Pakistani governments–has led to doubts about Pakistani assistance in the fight against the Taliban on their side of the Hindu Kush.

No, Russian soldiers will not be coming back to Afghanistan.  But this is an ironic twist to our rapidly-developing rapproachment with Russia.


2 thoughts on “Cause for Tense Optimism About the Way Forward with Russia

  1. Kukri

    Many people are under the impression that once the Soviet 40th Army left Afghanistan in 1989, Moscow hasn’t touched the country since. Not true. Russia was one of the biggest backers of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in the years before 9/11.

    Russia is concerned about two things here: Islamic militants and drugs, and both are coming from Afghanistan and wreaking havoc in Russia. Heck, both of these problems, if they get large enough, can start negative impacting the third pillar of Russian interests: the immense natural gas reserves of the ‘stans. Too much disruption in the Central Asian “republics” can cause enough instability that could reduce the flow of gas.

    This Russian offer might be too little, too late. After simply telling us for years “You’ll never win there, after all, we got our arses kicked in the 1980s!” and offering no assistance, providing a few choppers and helicopter trainers and opening up more transport corridors probably won’t tip the balance.

    Our current efforts, ceteris paribus, are doomed to failure. The biggest problem? If you ask me, it’s Kabul: Afghanistan will NOT improve so long as Karzai and his cronies remain in power. Their corruption, their political games, their incompetence, their horrible governance and mockery of the electoral process are driving Afghans away and sinking the ship.

    1. liberalironist Post author

      My second post was about Afghan corruption, actually:

      It veers towards the theoretical and characterizes rather than offers a way past political circumstances in Afghanistan, but my point is that corruption in the countries of the “bottom billion” isn’t entirely a product of poor leadership; it isn’t clear why competent public officials would do their jobs by the book in the poorest and least-stable countries, if that means their pay (and perhaps their life expectancy) will be slight compared to a warlord’s. I’m not trying to engage in Orientalism here (and I agree that Karzai’s subversion of the democratic process in Afghanistan has made its people more-untrusting of the government, and that this in itself is dangerous), but the available evidence suggests that good governance is more a *result* of political and economic development, rather than an important precondition for it.

      I agree that the picture in Afghanistan is bleak and that we may even have to take Rory Stewart’s advice about a minimal footprint there, but we may get no closer to stabilizing that country by assuming that one the poorest countries in the World has the material means to enforce the accountability standards rightly expected (and not always attained) in one of the richest.

      I could simply be wrong, but these criticisms of the Karzai government (and by no means am I singling yours out) should be attached to a clear strategy for replacing the Afghan President’s siblings with cabinet members he will find at least comparably-reliable; relatedly, I am not astonished that officials of a state too weak to police all of its own territory find themselves un-policed when they start imagining all the good uses they could put bribe money to.


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