Russia's and Iran's Strategic Policies towards the Afghanistan Crisis

By Keskin, Ghulam Faroq; Alibabalu, Sayyad Sadri et al. | Trames, June 2020 | Go to article overview

Russia's and Iran's Strategic Policies towards the Afghanistan Crisis


Keskin, Ghulam Faroq, Alibabalu, Sayyad Sadri, Fatah, Mudassir, Trames


1. Introduction

From Russia's point of perspective, the United States is there to maintain the unipolar system and blockade of Russia. For Russia, the US presence in Afghanistan has deepened the crisis and made pervasive security threats to Central Asia, which is Russia's backyard. The growth of extremist groups in recent years is a serious threat to Russian society. Also, since Russia is one of Afghanistan's drug destinations, the growing cultivation of opiates is a critical threat to Russia. The Russian officials are aware that Afghanistan has been the main hub for extremist groups that have been burning the Middle East after 2011. Therefore, in the post-Soviet era, Afghanistan has been a source of threat rather than a source of interest to Moscow. Hence, in general, the threats from Afghanistan towards Russia are symmetric and asymmetric. The symmetric threats have intensified the asymmetric threats as extremist groups have been raised recently. Russia attributes this to the presence of trans-regional forces, which has become an excuse for extremist groups in their Jihad against foreigners (Stepanova 2018; Marshall 2014; Galeotti 2016).

Iran's policy also overlaps with Russia's strategy. The US presence is a serious and first-rate threat to Iran. Given the US presence in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region, the US presence in Afghanistan means a physical blockade of Iran, and Iranian officials trying to defeat this strategic threat. In addition, Iran is competing with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan over various geopolitical issues. Iran regards Afghanistan as its natural geopolitical backyard and considers the presence of foreign armies as aggression to its vital interests. The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan has not only caused peace in Afghanistan but has also doubled the range of Iran's problems. Drug smuggling and transit, as well as the illegal presence of Afghan refugees, are the most important socio-cultural threats in Iran that have intensified since the occupation of Afghanistan (Koepe 2013; Boulverdi 2005; Akbarzadeh 2014).

2. Russia's policy on the Afghanistan peace process

The first diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Communist Russia goes back to 1919 when Russia recognized the independence of Afghanistan (Evsikov 2009). Moreover, the treaty of friendship was signed between the two countries in 1921. The treaty was important in political, economic and military terms (Ziganshina 2014: 74; Noorzoy 1985). From 1950 to 1973, the two states had very close relations and the Soviet Union influenced the political life of Afghanistan. During this period, the Soviet Union helped Afghanistan in areas such as military, economy, and agriculture (Payind 1989: 110-116). Moreover, by the contributions of the Soviet Union, the economic and technical foundation of Afghanistan was formed. Numerous projects including highways, factories, residential houses, and others were carried out by the Soviet Union (Allen 2014).

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the relation between these two states broke down. During the occupation, the US supplied all equipment to the 'Mujahedeen' through Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in order to defeat the Soviet Union. After ten years of catastrophe, the Soviet Union was forced to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989. The main reason behind the occupation of Afghanistan was the establishment of the anti-communist religious fundamentalist government, which was a huge threat to the Soviet Union. Indeed, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan fundamentalist religious groups came to power (Pear 1988, Xiaochuan 2016). During the civil war in the 1990s, Russia fully supported the Northern Alliance, which represented Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras. In fact, Russia along with Iran, India and Central Asian countries actively contributed to the unification of Afghan national minorities. In 2003, Moscow entered the Taliban to its list of terrorist organizations. …

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