Russia Seeks Afghan War Role as NATO Deaths Climb
By James G. Neuger
Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) — Russia is seeking a role in planning NATO’s war in Afghanistan two decades after Soviet forces were ejected from the country.
As East-West ties improve under President Barack Obama, Russia wants to be involved in setting the political, military and intelligence strategy for the war against the Taliban, said Dmitry Rogozin, Russian ambassador to the alliance.
“We want to be inside,” Rogozin said, in English, in an interview in Brussels today. He spoke for the rest of the hour- long session through a Russian translator.
Allied military planners are groping for a new strategy as casualties climb. The commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, this week called the situation there “serious.” In what Obama calls a “war of necessity,” some 153 allied troops were killed in July and August, according to www.icasualties.org.
Wrangling between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his challengers over the Aug. 20 election has magnified concerns about the country’s stability.
Russia now lets the North Atlantic Treaty Organization use its territory to ship supplies to Afghanistan, saying it faces a more direct threat from terrorism there than the U.S. and its allies. President Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia is prepared to cooperate with the U.S. to bring order to Afghanistan, though officials have made clear that Russia won’t commit troops.
NATO planning sessions are restricted to countries taking part in missions.
The invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and its failed 10-year occupation helped lead to the break-up of the Soviet Union. The U.S. shipped weapons to Islamic resistance fighters who later sowed the seeds of the al-Qaeda movement.
“It is in the interests of NATO to make Russia a permanent participant in all the discussions, professional discussions, closed discussions that are being held on Afghanistan in Brussels and Mons,” Rogozin said.
The 28-nation alliance’s civilian headquarters is in Brussels. The military command is based in Mons, in southern Belgium.
Rogozin said he broached Russia’s proposals to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister who became NATO secretary general on Aug. 1. Rasmussen responded with an “approving nod,” he said.
Rasmussen gave his account of that Aug. 11 encounter at a briefing today in Brussels, calling it a “a very successful, very fruitful and very useful meeting.” NATO is “reflecting on which further steps could be taken,” Rasmussen said.
In an Aug. 31 interview, Rasmussen called for a “strategic partnership” with NATO’s former Cold War adversary, seeking to soothe the strains that peaked with Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia, a would-be alliance member.
While committed to working more closely with Russia on Afghanistan, NATO today said the best forum would be the regular NATO-Russia meetings that resumed in January when the alliance ended a five-month diplomatic boycott after the Georgia war.
“It would certainly be appropriate to look at doing more on Afghanistan in the NATO-Russia Council framework,” alliance spokesman James Appathurai said by telephone in response to Rogozin’s proposals.
Some 62,000 U.S. and 35,000 allied troops are battling to defeat a comeback of the Taliban, the radical Islamic movement that ran Afghanistan and harbored al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden until it was ousted by the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Russia is saving the U.S. $1 billion annually by allowing its airspace to be used for 15 daily flights by American military cargo planes into Afghanistan, Rogozin said.
Russia wouldn’t close off its airspace if NATO bars it from the war-planning discussions, Rogozin said, refusing to envision “such dramatic scenarios.”
As part of a “new impetus” in NATO-Russia cooperation on Afghanistan, Rogozin also proposed a stepped up “dialogue of our intelligence agencies to break down terrorist and paramilitary networks, to localize their actions and ultimately neutralize them.”
The two sides will take their next steps when Rasmussen meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in New York during the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. Rogozin said he hoped Rasmussen will visit Moscow by the end of the year.
Better ties won’t overcome Russia’s opposition to further NATO enlargement or to U.S. proposals for a missile-defense shield in eastern Europe, Rogozin said.
Rogozin frowned on a proposal by former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski for tighter security arrangements between NATO and the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, a seven-nation group pieced together out of the remnants of the Soviet Union.
The idea would leave NATO free to expand further into Russia’s backyard, Rogozin said.
“NATO acknowledges the Collective Security Treaty Organization and Russia gets the hole of the donut,” Rogozin said. “It has to silence itself and stop objecting to further NATO enlargement to the east.”
To contact the reporter on this story: James G. Neuger in Brussels at email@example.com
Last Updated: September 2, 2009 13:16 EDT