By David Satter, FPRI Senior Fellow
Reviewed by Michael W. Cotter, former U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan & Publisher of American Diplomacy
Unfortunately, all too often Americans consider Afghanistan in a vacuum or, at best, because of its association with Pakistan. But what occurs in Afghanistan will have an enormous impact throughout the heart of Asia. For some further background on this point, look no further than this very journal – a 2008 commentary by this reviewer entitled “The New Face of Central Asia.”
This short e-Note from the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) provides valuable insight into what is at stake in Afghanistan for one of the major regional players – the Russian Federation. We may think that Russia’s interest and involvement in Afghanistan ended when the Soviet Union withdrew its forces in 1989, but as author David Satter points out, Russia has been involved since the 2003 military action by the U.S. and NATO to force the Taliban from power and capture Osama bin Laden.
As Satter also points out, our focus on that action as unilateral or NATO oriented has permitted the Russians to present their support as a “generous gesture” on their part. In fact Russia has a vital national interest in preventing the return to power in Kabul of a government controlled by Islamists intent on extending their influence throughout the Muslim world and beyond.
Most at risk are the former Soviet Republics that border Afghanistan – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – as well as the largely Muslim Russian republics in the Caucasus. In both areas radical Islamic groups have been active since well before 2001. Satter describes some of that activity, although he ignores Russia’s counter efforts to bolster the Central Asian countries’ ability to counter those activities.
But the dangers to Russia go beyond the Caucasus and its “near beyond,” as the Russians like to call the Central Asian states. The primary value of Satter’s analysis is its focus on those Russian republics and regions north of the Caucasus and Central Asia, the populations of which are also largely Muslim, Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. Hopefully readers of this timely article will use it as a springboard for further investigation of the interests of not only Russia but of Afghanistan’s other neighbors concerned for the future of that troubled country.