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Russian, Afghan Presidents Open Door To Cooperation During Rare State Visit

  • Kevin O'Flynn

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) greets Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Moscow.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) greets Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Moscow.

MOSCOW -- The presidents of Afghanistan and Russia have taken steps to resurrect economic and political ties that have been almost nonexistent since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was highlighted by the signing of an agreement that could pave the way for Russia to participate in "priority economic projects" -- including ones left unfinished after Soviet forces pulled out of the country in 1989, following nearly a decade of war.

Medvedev, discussing Russia's readiness to participate in such projects, spoke of his hopes for its war-torn neighbor.

"Russia would like to see our close neighbor of Afghanistan as an independent, prosperous country with efficient state institutions capable of independently ensuring the development of Afghanistan for decades to come," Medvedev said.

Rebuilding Cooperation

Russia has previously said it would rebuild Soviet-era infrastructure if the international community provided the financing. Karzai said that Afghanistan needed Russia's help in rebuilding Soviet-era facilities.

He underlined the two countries "joint cultural and historical values and ties" dating back to the 1800s, while noting the countries' current joint regional interests.

"Since [2002], there has been a steady strengthening and improvement in our relations," Karzai said, "primarily because Russia also shared the concerns and dangers that the rest of the world shared in that part of the world, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan and in the region as a whole."

Karzai said Afghanistan was ready to do "everything" possible to see the further development of Moscow-Kabul relations.

Kabul's interest in increasing trade was visible in the size of Karzai's delegation, which "Moskovskiye novosti" correspondent Arkady Dubnov told RFE/RL's Russian Service contained most of the Afghan government.

Trade with Russia reached $500 million in 2010, according to Karzai, and Moscow's technical know-how in the energy sector can help the country. The agreement said that Russian specialists will help in upgrading the Noglu hydropower plant and in building small power plants in other regions.

Russia is also in talks to help rebuild the strategically important Salang Tunnel, a north-south route through the Hindu Kush mountains; a customs terminal; and a university in Kabul.

No Russian Troops

Russia has not sent troops to Afghanistan, where some 15,000 Soviet soldiers died in the 1980s waging war against mujahedin guerillas, but has supported international efforts by the United States and NATO in their decade-long war against the Taliban.

During today's talks, Medvedev pledged Russia's continued help in training and equipping Afghan forces.

Karzai said that Russia would help Afghanistan become self-reliant as international forces wind down their stay in Afghanistan in the next few years.

"Russia and Afghanistan cooperate in the preparation of Afghan military and the study of Afghan students in Russia," Karzai said. "Of course, we are speaking about the expansion of cooperation in these spheres. We hope that Russia can help in the move to taking charge of security by the Afghan government at the end of 2014."

The Russian leader said he was supportive of international military action in Afghanistan, which is expected to end in 2014. Moscow has allowed NATO to transit nonlethal military supplies across its territory.

When asked if the United States had committed any mistakes during its continued military campaign in Afghanistan, he said that it was too early to say.

"If the question is about strategic errors or significant deficiencies in the activities of the international forces, I think the time for such an analysis has not yet come," Medvedev said.