Afghanistan, Relations with


Afghanistan, Relations with
   Russian involvement in Afghanistan dates to the 19th-century geopolitical struggle for Eurasian dominance with Great Britain, known as the “Tournament of Shadows” or “Great Game.” With the incorporation of Central Asia into the tsarist empire (1860–1885), Russia sought to exert control over the ethnically and politically fractured country. In the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, Moscow supplied the Afghans with arms and money, hoping to undermine Britain’s influence. During the 1950s, cooperation between the Soviet and Afghan regimes expanded greatly.
   In 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) staged a coup and instituted a series of radical reforms; the PDPA also signed a treaty of friendship with Moscow. Under the auspices of the new relationship, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) committed troops to the country in late 1979 to secure the unpopular PDPA regime under threat of an overthrow by Islamist guerillas, known as mujahideen, initiating the Soviet-Afghan War. Within a year, the Soviets were drawn into a full-fledged occupation of the country that would last until 1989. During the 1980s, Afghanistan’s foreign policy mirrored that of the USSR, and the country was a reliable member of the Eastern Bloc of nations. Upon his ascendency, Mikhail Gorbachev began a withdrawal of troops from the country and directed the Afghan leadership to pursue a policy of national reconciliation.
   After withdrawal, Moscow continued to support the regime of Muhammad Najibullah, including the provision of military aid transferred from vacated sites in Eastern Europe. As the country descended into a civil war that lasted from 1992 until 1996, Russia maintained contacts with a number of contenders for power. When the Pakistani-backed Islamists known as the Taliban emerged victorious, Boris Yeltsin threw his support behind the Northern Alliance, led by the anti-Soviet mujahideen leader Ahmad Shah Masood, in an attempt to protect Russia’s interests in Central Asia. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Russian military personnel and border guards in Tajikistan were drawn into skirmishes with Taliban forces. Yeltsin feared a spillover of radical Islamism from Afghanistan into Russia’s neighbors, which share historical and ethnic ties with the country. Additionally, the Kremlin resented the Taliban’s support of Chechen separatists. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Vladimir Putin signaled his approval of the United States’ late 2001 invasion of the country, as well as Washington’s plans to build air bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. After the conclusion of major military operations in the country, Russia sought to rebuild its long-standing partnership with Kabul.
   The country’s first postwar president, Hamid Karzai, expanded links with Russian businesses and the government, while suggesting that Moscow should help rebuild the country in reparation for the damage inflicted during the Soviet-Afghan War. Russia did commit to humanitarian aid and reconstruction costs in the wake of the U.S.led invasion. Upon assuming the presidency, Dmitry Medvyedev has highlighted the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, urging his fellow member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to take collective action to shore up the country’s security and ability to combat narcotics trafficking.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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