Rumblings of Russia’s Afghan re-entry

March 29, 2013 11:10 pm | Updated March 30, 2013 08:26 am IST - DUBAI:

Afghan children play on a destroyed Soviet-made armoured tank in Panjshir,north of Kabul, in this file photo.

Afghan children play on a destroyed Soviet-made armoured tank in Panjshir,north of Kabul, in this file photo.

Russia appears set to stage a re-entry into the Afghan theatre by establishing military maintenance bases inside the strife-torn nation after the withdrawal of NATO forces next year.

These facilities are meant to service Russian military equipment routed through NATO to the Afghan armed forces. For several years the Pentagon has been purchasing Russian weaponry, including helicopters, which have been transferred to the Afghan armed forces.

“We will consider various options for establishing maintenance bases on the territory of Afghanistan,” Sergei Koshelev, head of the Russian Defence Ministry’s chief administration for international military cooperation, was quoted as saying.

The Russian move has triggered speculation on whether under the cover of military repair platforms Moscow wants to mark a physical presence to fill the power vacuum likely to befall Afghanistan after 2014.

But steering clear of the bitter memories of the Soviet debacle in the 1980s, Russian officials have repeatedly denied that Moscow is considering resumption of its military presence in Afghanistan.

Mr. Koshelev pointed out that from Moscow’s perspective, it was important that Russian equipment supplied to the Afghan armed forces was kept in good shape.

With a beleaguered NATO in exit mode after 13 harrowing years of combat in the Hindukush mountain ranges, representatives of the alliance and the Russians will hold discussions in May to work out the details for establishing the Russian bases, said the official.

Senior officials from Moscow are packaging their Afghan move as a necessity for safeguarding not only Russian interests but also of the entire European continent, as an escalation in militancy after 2014 would pose a serious security threat to both.

Citing their common interests, Moscow is not excluding the possibility of broadening its engagement with NATO in Afghanistan. Aleksandr Grushko, Russia’s envoy to NATO, said that Moscow could offer to enlarge the transport corridor into Afghanistan that the western allies use to transfer supplies after 2014.

Russia’s top lawmaker for defence, Sergey Zhigrev, was emphatic in his remarks to RSN radio that the stabilisation of the situation in Afghanistan was his country’s top priority. “In any case this [Russia-NATO cooperation] is a positive moment. The coalition was breaking there for 13 years. We remember very well the situation our troops found themselves in at the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border. This is why the stabilisation in Afghanistan is very important for us,” he said.

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