Since the last decade, Russian’s interests in Afghanistan are increasing. Moreover, the propagated presence of Islamic State group too increased the worrisome of Moscow. During the last few months, the statements and remarks of Vladimir Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, and Moscow’s special representative for Af-Pak region Kabulov and now Russian Minister of interior’s visit to Kabul shows such anxiousness.
The Russians defeat and Moscow’s paradigm shift
Afghanistan is familiar with Moscow since ages. It was Afghanistan, which became a battlefield between Russians and Englishmen during the nineteenth century. While in the twentieth century, Russia becomes one of the largest economic and military supporters of Afghanistan. From 1954 to 1978, Moscow’s economic and military assistance to Afghanistan increased beyond $1 billion. At the times, Afghanistan once again like the Great Game becomes a battlefield between great powers. But, this time Russians faced Americans instead of Englishmen. Americans too helped Afghanistan but their level of assistance was little compared to Russians.
Until 1991, Russian’s policy of assistance was greatly influenced by ideologue and the coherence in international politics. But when the Russians were defeated in Afghanistan they changed their policy and in November 1991, the President of Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin received a delegation of the four of seven groups of Mujahedeen, led by Borhanuddin Rabbani and the Russians upon releasing groups of Soviet POW’s affirmed its pledge to curtail its arms shipments to Najibullah and pledged to withdraw its military advisors.
It was since this time that the Russians changed their policy regarding Afghanistan which continued until 2001. The Russians had kept relations with Mujahedeen but attacks on twin towers in September had changed everything.
Afghan-Russian Post-2001 Relations
When the 9/11 incidents happened and in response the USA and NATO attacked Afghanistan; the Russians welcomed the invasion. Because at the times of Islamic Emirate, the Taliban does not only have recognized the Chechens’ but at the height of the war of Russo-Chechen war, in 2000, hosted a Chechen ‘embassy’ in Kabul. Therefore, when Taliban left Kabul, a group of Russian diplomats came to Kabul in order to open their embassy on 28th December, 2001.
Marek Menkiszak divides post-2001 Russian Afghan policy into three different periods:
- From 2001 to 2002;
- From 2003 to 2006;
- From 2007 until now
In the first period, the bilateral visits were exchanged and in the meantime mostly Russian attention increased towards Afghanistan due to the many faces in the new afghan interim government who belonged to Northern Alliance and they in turn had very closed relations with Moscow. Therefore, in February 2002 Russian Foreign minister visited Kabul and invited Karzai to visit his country. On 12 February, 2002, Marshal Mohammad Qaseem Faheem visited Moscow in order to discuss weapons for Afghan army. Younis Qanooni, afghan interior minister, also visited Moscow on 28th February. Later, on the invitation of Russian Foreign minister, Hamid Karzai twice visited Moscow first in March and later in June.
According to Marek Menkiszak, from 2003 to 2006, Russo-Afghan relations were slowed down, but at the period of time Russo-Afghan military relations were on the rise. From 2002 to 2005, Russia provided Afghanistan worth $30 million of military hardware, training and logistical services. In 2005, Russia provided helicopters and military equipment to Afghanistan worth $30 million.
But when at the end of Hamid Karzai’s first tenure, Kabul-Washington relations deteriorated and Hamid Karzai’s relations with the United States were greatly damaged due to Barack Obama’s winning the 2008 presidential elections in USA and during Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential elections Richard Holbrooke and USA was involved to change its outcome. In the meantime, Russian-American relations were too damaged in 2008 due to Russian occupation of Georgia and thus challenging the American interests there.
When both the Russians and Afghans relations were deteriorated with the USA, Afghan-Russia relations become warmed. Russia at this stage, canceled $11.1 billion of the $12 billion of afghan debt. Later, in 2010, it canceled the remaining $891 million afghan debts too. In the same year, Russia delivered 20 thousand AK-47 rifles to Afghan National Army, trained some 250 afghan police, modernized the Naghlu dam, and in 2011, Hamid Karzai himself went to Moscow on his third official visit.
In addition, the trade volume between the two countries also increased since 2008. In 2008, total bilateral trade was $200 million while in 2010 it became $571.3 million and in 2013 the numbers crossed the $1 billion mark.
Later in 2011, Moscow’s highest-ranking politician to visit Kabul so far was the speaker of Parliament. After this visit, the bilateral exchange of visits increased. When Ashraf Ghani became Afghan President, Moscow sends their new ambassador, Alexander Mantytskiy to Kabul. He was a diplomat in Russian foreign ministry and ambassador in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Moreover, Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov very often visits to Kabul. He too came after Russian interior minister’s visit to Kabul and discussed the matters of mutual interest.
Zamir Kabulov and Russian interior minister’s visit is happening in such period that the news of Islamic state in Afghanistan is spreading, the insecurity in the northern Afghanistan is increasing and the drug trafficking has worried the Russians.
Russia’s increasing interest and concerns
The question that why the Russians are taking interest, cautious and worried about Afghanistan, has the following reasons:
- The withdrawal of American Forces:
The reason behind the increasing Russian interests and worriedness in Afghanistan is because of American announcement that they would leave and withdraw from Afghanistan. This announcement has not only has increased Russian interests but worries as well. They fear and are worried that with the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, it would face insecurity and it would in turn insecure the central Asian republics and Russia as well. It is from here that the Russians are slowly militarily helping Afghanistan.
- The deterioration of Kabul-Washington relations
One of the reasons, which brought Russia closer to Afghanistan, was that at the times of Georgia conflict (2008), Afghan-American relations were too not warmed; as a result Russia becomes closer to Afghanistan.
- “Islamic State”
From the last few months, behind the Russian worrisome is the presence of Islamic state in Afghanistan. In this regards, from the Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian foreign minister Lavrov, and Russian interior minister Kolokotsiv to Russian ambassador in Kabul and special presidential envoy Kabulov’s remarks shows such worriedness.
Regarding Islamic state’s presence in Afghanistan, Russian president Vladimir Putin commented on Islamic states influence and said: ISIS is trying to seize parts of Afghanistan. In addition, Russian foreign minister Lavrov too commented on this that Islamic state is becoming day by day nearer to Russian territory and in March, 2015 Russia stated: Islamic state has roots in Afghanistan and is now threatening Russian allies. Later, when Hanif Atmar met with Russian foreign minister Lavrov in Moscow he said that Russia is ready to work with Kabul in fight against terror and the last week’s Russian officials’ visit were due to this motive.
- Drug trafficking
The drug trafficking and the large number of its addicted in Russia is another worrisome sign to Russia. Therefore they are very much interested in Afghanistan. Because as according to United Nations survey the number of addicted people in Russia is nearly as much as it is in European Union collectively (70 tons to 88 tons). Moreover, out of about 100 thousand drug addicts dying each year worldwide, between 30 thousand and 40 thousand are Russians. Moscow relates this problem more with Afghanistan, because it still supplies 90 percent of the world’s drugs. One of the agenda of Russian interior minister’s recent visit was also cooperation on how to curb down drug trafficking between two countries.
- Insecurities in Northern Afghanistan
The increase in insecurities in northern Afghanistan; the increased military operations in Kunduz, Faryab, Badakhshan and Takhar have wondered the Russian-top-officials. Therefore, in this regard, the Russians have expressed their worrisome because they are fearful that it shouldn’t spread to central Asia and Moscow.
 Richard Weitz, Moscow’s endgame in Afghanistan, Conflict Quarterly, Winter: 1992
 Thomas Ruttig, From Point Zero to ‘New Warmth’: Russian-Afghan relations since 1989, Afghanistan Analysts Network, 2014
 For further studies, see it here: <http://af.farsnews.com/politics/news/13931004000594>
 For further studies, see it here:< http://www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=13931004000520>
 For further studies, see it here:< http://dari.sputniknews.com/dari.ruvr.ru/news/2015_03_05/283210744>
 Dmitri Trenin and Alexei Malashenko, Afghanistan: A view from Moscow, Carnegie Endowment, 2010, p: 15