Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Russia may cooperate with NATO in Afghanistan

The return of a multipolar world order as the King of the Hill inevitably loses its unique position is surprising only because of its speed under the Bush regime. This week, Russia offered "a significant level of practical cooperation" to NATO in Afghanistan. The offer comes at a time when the alliance is having difficulty persuading its members to provide combat troops in Afghanistan and the long-touted success of the mission in Kosovo is in question.

According to a report by James Blitz in the British online publication Financial Times, "Moscow and Brussels are working on a plan that would allow non-military material – such as clothing, food and petrol – to cross Russia by land" (Mar 6 08).

The proposal by Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s new ambassador to NATO, has been followed up by "intensive talks between NATO and Russian officials on the precise routes to be used."

Serious consideration was also given last year to the Azerbaijan radar proposal. (See RFE/RL Jun 8 08) Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed using the Gabala radar station as an alternative host for elements of a US missile defence system planned for central Europe, which Russia sees as a threat to its security.

Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly, deputy director of the US Missile Defence Agency, led a six-person team on "a technical visit to get a tour of the facility" (Space War Sep 16 07).

A day later, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, admitted that the Russian system would be useful as a way to alert the rest of the missile-defense system to an Iranian attack and to help focus it, but that it could not replace the function of the American radar.

The new Russian proposal to NATO comes at a time when the continued existence of the alliance is under discussion. Coalition operations receive most of their personnel and supplies through the Pakistani port of Karachi. Estimates vary from 40 to 80 percent, either of which is significant.

Russian diplomats say the new supply routes would have to pass through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which are being consulted on the move.

In July 2005, the US was officially evicted from the Karshi-Khanabad air base, known as K2, in Uzbekistan. After the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and a further similar US-instigated uprising in Kyrgyzstan, the Uzbek government decided to rid itself of the chief provocateur. There had already been massive demonstrations probably inspired by the US. The Uzbek government, which has a terrible human rights record, had killed a number of the protesters.

Human rights haven't improved since the Americans were thrown out, but there hasn't been a significant level of social unrest either.

Unfortunate as that no doubt is for Uzbek human rights advocates, the change to multipolarity is indicated by Russia's negotiation of a deal with NATO that could not even be considered with the US.

Russia and NATO share an interest in curbing "terrorist" activities along Afghanistan's northern border.

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