Russia in Afghanistan: A post-NATO imperative

Russian Su-25 at the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan. Source: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation / mil.ru

Russian Su-25 at the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan. Source: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation / mil.ru

Russia’s fresh renewal of the contract for the Kant airbase till the year 2032 places it in an advantageous position to monitor and control the developments in Afghanistan.

Russia is going to increase its military presence in the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The increasing military presence of Russia will not take place in a vacuum as it will impact the evolving security architecture in Central Asia and Afghanistan. This month the secretary general of Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) met Russian foreign and deputy foreign ministers in Moscow to coordinate efforts to ensure stability in Afghanistan and to counter drug-trafficking and terrorism. The recent developments suggest that Russia will play a bigger role in Afghanistan in 2014.

Viktor Sevostyanov, head of the Second Air Force and Air Defence Command was quoted by the Russian television channel RTas saying: “The expansion of the (Kant) base will take place by December.” He further disclosed that Russia will double the number of war planes in the base. At present Russia has about 10 Sukhoi fighters, two Mi-8 helicopters, a dozen transport and training airplanes, and about 400 personnel in the base. This may not be adequate to address the challenges after the NATO led international security assistance force departs from Afghanistan. Reports suggest that the US may expedite the process of withdrawal well before the scheduled deadline. It has been exploring plans for early withdrawal from the Manas airbase and using another airbase in Romania for transit. Russia’s fresh renewal of contract for the Kant airbase till the year 2032 places it in an advantageous position to monitor and control the developments in Afghanistan.

Russia’s increasing presence in Central Asia will promote its interest as provider of security in the region. The spill over of the Taliban to Central Asian states is always a possibility, and any security vacuum will provide the extremist organization a free run. Nikolai Bordhyzha, the Secretary General of the CSTO, recently articulated this concern. He was quoted by the Voice of Russia as saying, “we do understand that things won’t be any more stable than they are now, and we do expect the situation in Afghanistan to have a certain negative impact on the CSTO member states (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). Many preventive steps have already been taken, including assistance to Tajikistan in enforcing its border with Afghanistan.” The case of Tajikistan is particularly sensitive as it has ethnic linkages with Afghanistan, and aftermath of the Soviet collapse it had witnessed intense civil war with support from across the borders. Afghanistan shares border with some of the Central Asian states which are post-Soviet countries. Russia has envisioned that the Kant airbase will promote stability and security under the banner of CSTO.

The OSCE Secretary General, Lamberto Zannier met the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexei Meshkov in Moscow on November 11. Though the details of the meeting were not disclosed to public, it indeed explored the prospects of cooperation in Afghanistan. In the forthcoming elections in Afghanistan, OSCE on the request of Afghan government has promised to offer help by sending election observers. Increasing coordination of efforts between Russia and OSCE will help fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of international security assistance forces. It will combine– Russia’s old experience in handling insurgents and its increasing military presence in Central Asia and OSCE’s expertise – in bridging the fault lines created in the war weary Afghanistan.

Russia’s increasing role in Afghanistan is a post-NATO imperative. It is likely that Russia will prefer stability and peace in the region through collective efforts like CSTO, SCO and RIC. Russia has the capability to go solo, but its leadership is more intent to explore collectivism and regionalism in addressing challenges in Afghanistan. 

Dr. Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is an Indian commentator. His areas of interests include conflict, terrorism, peace and development, Kashmir, South Asia, and strategic aspects of Eurasian politics.

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