Afghanistan Is Russia’s Problem Now

US forces abandoned their main base in Afghanistan overnight without even telling their allies that they would be gone by morning so that they could at least secure the premises. Perhaps they were just too embarrassed to say goodbye. They did not even leave a key with the neighbours.

Nothing significant the Democrats do ever appears to have been worked out in advance (as on the border with Mexico and the consequences of defunding police forces in high crime cities). But by finally deserting Afghanistan in such indecent haste the United States has inadvertently handed the poisoned chalice back to the Russians. In retrospect it will no doubt be be seen by bien pensant historians as a brilliant piece of geopolitics.

It was only a few months ago that the ever talkative Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was condemning the Americans for staying in the country. It was after all yet another stick to beat the enemy with. The Russians have finally and all too abruptly got what they wished for; perhaps also, indeed, what they fully deserve. But now Lavrov and his mates in the Kremlin are panicking because the Americans have left. Perhaps that shows exactly why the US should never have stayed on so long, if indeed they ever had to invade, in the first place. It is, in the words of one comedian, déjà vu all over again.

The Shanghai Co-operation Organization that the Russians set up in 2001 was on Moscow’s part an attempt to create the prototype for a regional security alliance of eight states in the region that would keep the Americans out of Central Asia along with miscellaneous terrorist and other anti-Russian forces. There was an economic core to the arrangement which the Chinese were much more interested in as they saw their own security needs easily met by unilateral rearmament on a vast scale that the Russians could not contemplate. They do not need an alliance with Russia. They never will.

However, with the Americans out, the Russians certainly need allies. The Taliban have sealed the frontier with Pakistan and will soon do the same in the north against Russia’s protégés. According to the Russians they already hold 85% of the country. Naturally Russia desperately wants to harness the SCO to lock down Afghanistan and rid the area once and for all of terrorism emanating from the south.

Kommersant, beneath a photo of the four key foreign ministers who look very much as though they are facing a firing squad, tells us that the departure of the Americans has “cast a shadow” over the forthcoming 20th anniversary meeting of the SCO in September. Afghanistan, an observer state, long wanted to be a member but the Russians always preferred Iran, which applied as far back as 2008. But the Tadzhiks always blocked their admission because the Iranians are friendly with the insurgents in Tadzhikistan. (When European foreign ministers are fretting about their petty differences it must be refreshing to take a look at Central Asia)

At least others present are anxious lest the entire area be subsumed by turmoil as a result of the Taliban. But the Russians also have special worries concerning the presence of Isis within warring Afghanistan that may not be shared equally by others. On 10 July Kommersant, taking its cue from the Kremlin, already pointed out that the emergence of a new emirate under the Taliban was destined to become “the world’s main foreign policy problem.”

The south, ever since the days of Gorbachev, was always Moscow’s soft under-belly. I recall a KGB man from the Soviet embassy in Washington DC in 1984 asking me, a mere academic at Johns Hopkins SAIS, how we could “form an alliance”. Somewhat baffled, I asked: “against whom?” “Against the south”, he retorted emphatically. Needless to say, I was unable to oblige. Given the magnitude of Kremlin anxieties in this matter, the latest events are potentially a game-changer for the future direction of its policies abroad, which now require pulling back from the various frontiers of conflict it has foolishly crossed in better days. The renewed containment of Russia lies in prospect, largely self-induced by virtue of necessity, and with it comes the chance of reordering relations with the Western Powers on a more rational and prudential basis. Whether the Democrats are up to coping with it is seriously open to doubt. Pozhivem uvidem, as the Russians say.

Марианна Беленькая, Kommersant, 15 July 2021:

Между Афганистаном и ШОС встали талибы

Главы МИДов стран—членов организации обсудили афганский кризис