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Envoy Says Russia Seeks Greater Role In Afghanistan

Russian Ambassador to Kabul Andrei Avetisyan talked to Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul on December 24.
Russian Ambassador to Kabul Andrei Avetisyan talked to Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul on December 24.
(RFE/RL) -- Russia's ambassador to Kabul has said his country will seek to boost its role in Afghanistan and praised the recently unveiled U.S. approach to ease security and other problems there.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Ambassador Andrei Avetisyan also played up Russia's long-term presence in the region compared to the interests of more distant capitals.

Avetisyan said that "not only America, but we all, together, must....concentrate not only on military efforts but on civilian efforts."

"We say that the new American strategy, [U.S. President Barack] Obama's strategy, is right, because Americans say that what is needed is to win the hearts of Afghan people, not just win the territory," Avetisyan said. "And i'm happy to hear that, because it shows that they are learning from it."

He said Kabul can expect more attention from Moscow, and cited Russian plans to train Afghan national soldiers and police, as well as counternarcotics experts, and donate wheat and fire engines in 2010.

"We are trying to increase our role in Afghanistan now, because we feel that the situation now is right," Avetisyan told Radio Free Afghanistan.

In the wide-ranging interview on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Soviet Union's ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan, Moscow's envoy also warned that "no foreign troops can achieve a victory in any kind of fighting in Afghanistan."

"It's not only my opinion, it's what history teaches us."

Avetisyan also suggested that Moscow had a longer-term perspective on relations with Afghanistan than other, unnamed countries.

"We're still your neighbors, though we don't share a border...we are still feeling ourselves as Afghan neighbors," he said. "And we stay here."

He then appeared to draw an implicit comparison to countries like the United States and its allies in the eight-year effort to rid Afghanistan of Al-Qaeda and its influence and stabilize the region.

"Many of your friends will have to go sometime, because they came from far away to help you," Avetisyan said. "But when they go, we stay -- together with your neighbors, we stay."

written by Andy Heil based on an interview conducted in Kabul by Radio Free Afghanistan