Russian Envoy: Afghanistan's Prospects Getting Worse
Russia's assessment of the prospects for a smooth transition in Afghanistan are dim -- and getting worse, the country's ambassador to Tajikistan said. Russian ambassadors from the Central Asian states and Afghanistan met in Tashkent and Igor Lyakin-Frolov, Moscow's envoy to Dushanbe, took the occasion to give an interview to Russian newspaper Kommersant.
Lyakin-Frolov's view was grim: "If a few months ago the prevailing view was that the situation in Afghanistan was more or less normal and a direct threat to Tajikistan wasn't seen, now the prognosis is becoming more and more pessimistic," he said.
The "threat" from Afghanistan has been the driver (or, perhaps, the pretext) for Russia's recent push to build up its security presence in Central Asia. It's been boosting the presence and capability of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, including building up a joint CSTO air force and using the CSTO to provide technical assistance to Tajikistan's border forces. And Lyakin-Frolov's comments are some of Russia's most explicitly pessimistic.
His "most favorable" scenario of how things may turn out is not actually very favorable: "The most favorable scenario supposes that the current government will barely hold on in Kabul and in the majority of provincial centers with the support of the U.S. and NATO contingents. There are also less favorable scenarios which suppose that a full-scale civil war can start, which would threaten the integrity of the Afghan government and likewise, the security of the countries of Central Asia... and, correspondingly, the security of Russia. So we need to prepare."
His other interesting statement was the explicit prediction of the use of Russia's 201st military base in Tajikistan to help deal with that threat:
"Undoubtedly," he said in response to a question about whether the base would act if the situation in Afghanistan threatened Central Asia. "It [the base] can be used in the case of an immediate threat to the security of Tajikistan and other member states of the CSTO. That possibility was provided for in the terms of the Russian base agreement. This means coordinated actions, together with the leadership of Tajikistan. Under the current terms, when the situation in Afghanistan gets worse, the significance of the base grows."
So, put those two things together, and Russia is preparing for a likely military action in Central Asia.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.