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Russia Eyes Afghan Rebuilding Work, Envoy Says

Dmitry Rogozin
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia's envoy to NATO said today that Moscow was willing to expand its role in Afghanistan by rebuilding Soviet-era infrastructure, provided the international community underwrote the cost.

Moscow has been reluctant to play a major role in Afghanistan since the Soviet Union's bruising 10-year war there in the 1980s.

It has ruled out sending troops to back U.S. and NATO forces fighting the Taliban, but has offered them supply routes and held out hope of further cooperation.

"Russia is ready to take part in the process of restoration of Afghanistan," Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's NATO envoy, told Reuters. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov may raise the issue at a January 28 conference on Afghanistan in London, he said.

Rogozin said there were about 140 facilities or projects Russia could help with but it was unclear how many needed to be rebuilt or repaired. Soviet projects in Afghanistan ranged from a fertilizer plant and hydropower stations to gas and oil pipeline networks.

Rogozin called for the international community to underwrite the cost of any Russian construction or repair work.

While offering to cooperate with the United States and NATO on Afghanistan, Russia has also complained they have not done enough to stem the huge flow of Afghan heroin entering Russia.

Russian officials say they want NATO to succeed because failure could lead to the spread of Islamist insurgency in ex-Soviet Central Asia. But they stress Afghanistan's problems cannot be solved though military action alone.

"Are the leading states including the U.S. and the other big donors to Afghanistan ready to pay attention to civilian and economic aspects of the restoration of power in Afghanistan?" Rogozin asked.

NATO has called on Russia to provide helicopters to Afghan forces and expand training projects for police and officials.

Rebuilding infrastructure would help Russian companies and give Moscow influence in Afghanistan without military involvement, said Fyodor Lyukanov, editor of "Russia in Global Affairs" magazine.

"Russia would like to keep a distance from what is going on in Afghanistan because the current situation is seen as a very transitory one. Russia would like to be there in some form so that after NATO leaves, Russian concerns would be observed."

Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan to strengthen communist allies, but got bogged down in a conflict with mujahedin insurgents. Some 15,000 Soviet troops and 1 million Afghans died in the fighting.