Russia Urges NATO to Stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the timeline for a NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Russia fears a spillover of Islamist militancy into the former Soviet republics on its border.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov urged NATO to keep its forces in Afghanistan beyond President Barack Obama's 2014 deadline for withdrawing from the decade-old war.

"As long as Afghanistan is not able to ensure by itself the security in the country, the artificial timelines of withdrawal are not correct and they should not be set," Mr. Lavrov said during a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels today.

That appeal comes, ironically, just days after Lavrov's boss, President-elect Vladimir Putin, called NATO a "relic of the cold war," and suggested it be disbanded. During his recent election campaign, Mr. Putin leaned heavily on anti-Western rhetoric and even accused the US of seeking "absolute invulnerability" at the expense of everyone else.

Though Russia has a long and painful list of differences with the Western alliance, chiefly US-led plans to install a missile defense shield in Europe, it has grown increasingly anxious about NATO's loss of enthusiasm for the Afghanistan war.

Moscow's main worry is that a precipitous NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan might lead to a Taliban victory, and a return to the turbulent conditions of the 1990's, when Islamist militants infiltrated the neighboring post-Soviet republics of central Asia, mainly Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and threatened stability on Russia's southern flank.

"Withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would be a very unfavorable development for Russia," says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the State Duma's foreign affairs committee. "It would lead to dramatic worsening of the situation in Afghanistan, and perhaps a repeat of all the turbulence that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan (in 1989). We are watching (the approaching deadline for NATO withdrawal) with deep wariness and perplexity."

Detente

Though Russia has always agreed that the NATO war against the Taliban was in Moscow's fundamental interests, chilly East-West relations during the administration of George W. Bush prevented agreement on material cooperation.

But since 2009, Russia has allowed NATO to use an air transport corridor through former Soviet territory to resupply its forces in Afghanistan with "non-lethal" equipment, and is now offering the use of an advanced Russian airbase in the Volga region of Ulyanovsk as a "transit hub" for supplies moving to and from Kabul. …