Russian troops to Afghanistan?

Russian troops to Afghanistan? Nearly 25 years after Soviet troops left Afghanistan in defeat, Russia may return – in order to service the Russian equipment that makes up the backbone of the Afghan military.

Almost a quarter century after Soviet troops left Afghanistan in defeat, Russia may return to the country by establishing "maintenance bases" for Russian-made military equipment after NATO winds down its operations there next year, defense ministry officials have confirmed.

"It is important to maintain the weapon systems and military equipment of the Afghan armed forces in a serviceable state," Sergei Koshelev, head of the Russian defense ministry's international cooperation department, told journalists late last week.

Moscow is extremely worried "that any escalation of the situation in Afghanistan after NATO troops pull out in 2014 could have a negative impact on the security of both Russia and other European nations," he added.

Russian experts insist that it's not an attempt to overcome Russia's own version of the "Vietnam syndrome" – an agonized folk memory of the decade-long war in Afghanistan that arguably brought down the Soviet Union. Rather, they say the new engagement will be limited to commercial obligations, negotiated with NATO before it pulls most of its forces out, and will absolutely not involve any active military role.

"Someone has to help the Afghan people build a peaceful life. They've known nothing but weapons and war for so long," says Oleg Tikhonov, deputy head of the Injured Afghan War Veterans in Sverdlovsk region, western Siberia.

"But Russia must never repeat its past mistakes. There cannot again be any Russian troops in Afghanistan. After the past, it would be impossible to explain why Russian boys are dying there. You cannot do such things without the people's consent," he adds.


Analysts say that, first, there is an objective need to maintain and repair generations of Soviet and Russian-made military hardware that constitute the main weaponry used by the Afghan security forces. Over the past decade, rather than re-equip Afghan government troops with sophisticated Western-made arms, the US has purchased hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Russian weapons, including helicopters, from Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport to fill their needs.

Second, Russia wants to establish forward posts in Afghanistan because it is increasingly alarmed about a possible resurgence of the cross-border militant Islamist incursions that sowed chaos in the post-Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan during the turbulent 1990s. Production of narcotics has exploded under NATO's watch in Afghanistan, and much of it moves via criminal pipelines through former Soviet central Asia and Russia, feeding official corruption and the growth of mafia power throughout the region. Many Russians say they fear that the NATO withdrawal may soon leave them to face these challenges alone.

Over the past couple of years, Russia has become more active assisting the beleaguered NATO mission in Afghanistan, even granting the use of an important airbase in central Russia to help with resupply efforts. Russian leaders have repeatedly urged NATO not to leave in 2014, and to stay in Afghanistan until "the job is done."

But most Russian experts say they are now resigned to the US pulling the plug in 2014 and, in a pattern familiar from previous wars from Vietnam to Iraq, abandoning the region to its own devices.

"Look at Iraq. The US lost interest in it, and nobody cares if it's becoming engulfed in civil war," says Vadim Kozyulin, a researcher with the PIR Center, a leading Moscow security think tank.

"The same process may happen in Afghanistan, and could develop much more quickly. The US effort in Afghanistan is about to end. It's time for Russia to design a new effort, which means we have to take a share of responsibility on ourselves. We're already playing the role of political and military leader in central Asia.... Even though [President Vladimir] Putin previously said we won't send Russian specialists to Afghanistan, the Russian military now says we might create enterprises on Afghan territory to service military equipment. The situation is changing," he adds.

Read More:news.yahoo

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