WASHINGTON — Afghanistan is on Russia’s mind yet again. Even after their failed military invasion in the 1980s, the Russians continue to worry about post-NATO Afghanistan.
NATO and the U.S. are set to pull out within the next year and Russia is worried that instability and violence, which has defined Afghanistan for the past several decades, will re-emerge. This is worrying considering that many of its former Soviet republics like Tajikistan are next door neighbors to the hotbed of Islamist, Taliban-led insurgency.
Russia has had its hands full with Islamist insurgencies within its own borders in regions such as Chechnya and Dagestan, and another internal Islamist threat concerns them. In addition, the potential threat of narcotics trade unfettered by NATO anti-narcotics efforts is also a great concern. Afghanistan produces up to 90% of the world’s opium.
Russia has encouraged Tajikistan to consider putting border guards along their border with Afghanistan, according to a Reuters interview with Moscow’s Kabul envoy Andrey Avetisyan. Avetisyan also served in Kabul under the Soviet government in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
He said, “We used to have a serious presence on the Afghan-Tajik border and, at that time, the situation there was much better, so it would be in the interest of both Russia and Tajikistan and even Afghanistan if Russia is present there”. He declined to specify the number of Russian border troops who would be directly involved.
Russia had withdrawn its border troops in 2005, which was a significant event in handing power back to the Tajiks and local authorities. But, it might take initiative and intervene again in Tajikistan.