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."
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. …