By Zaki Shaikh
The writer is a UK-based analyst and has worked with universities in three Central Asian countries.
LONDON (AA) – Russia is jostling to strengthen and expand its presence in the volatile Central Asian region to prevent its partners from aligning with NATO or getting closer to the US.
After completing phase one of military exercises with Uzbekistan, Russia is now preparing phase two of week-long three-nation war games involving Tajikistan as well from Thursday near the Termez mountain range, located in Uzbekistan’s Surkhandarya province.
The exercise taking place near the borders of Afghanistan attains considerable significance.
As many as 1,500 servicemen from three nations will test heavy military equipment, armored vehicles, and air support. Analysts say it is part of Russia’s effort to bring Uzbekistan closer and encourage it to re-join the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
It is believed that the issue of constructing a reliable ring of safety around Uzbekistan may be pursued albeit with some reservations. None of the governments in the region want to pursue a deeper integration. Russian strategist Yelena Palina said that without a deeper integration there was no future to the Russia-led CSTO. She also called for radical reorganization of the CSTO to make it effective and practical.
Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, anticipated that the worsening situation in Afghanistan may allow his country to promote its influence in the region. Although Moscow already enjoys significant strong clout in the region, Kabulov said that it will grow further especially in these turbulent conditions.
Many Russian commentators had claimed a victory in the wake of the hasty pull out of the US troops from Afghanistan. They claim that the ill-planned withdrawal created a power vacuum and caused a destabilizing effect on the security situation. The degrading of defense capabilities demoralized Afghan soldiers, resultantly fomenting fears among Central Asian states.
Andrei Kazantsev, lead researcher at Moscow’s Foreign Relations Institute said the low morale lack of motivation among the Afghan force was due to poor training levels. He added that the loyalty of troops was ensured “primarily through cash infusions” from Washington and the international coalition.
-Aggravating security situation
He claimed that the defense institutions of the Kabul government comprised “mercenary troops, which were supported by foreign money and were characterized by huge internal divisions, primarily of an intra-ethnic nature”. He said the entire system was maintained at the expense of the continuous flow of huge external funds, as well as military support from the US and its NATO allies.
“Now that the financial source is disappearing, the low morale is taking its toll, and the soldiers scatter or surrender. In this regard, it is now difficult to imagine whether the government will be able to cope up with the situation,” said Kazantsev.
Against the background of the aggravating security situation in and around Afghanistan, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the intransigence displayed by Kabul towards negotiation, coupled with the focus on a hasty withdrawal of the American military contingent from Afghanistan has created conditions for a forceful resolution through the armed conflict.
At the same time, Kabulov stressed that the US still owes obligations to the Afghan people. He said they needed to provide financial and economic assistance aimed at rebuilding the country.
Kabulov underlined the fact that it was impossible to resolve the situation in Afghanistan relying on any single country. It, however, appears that besides the US, Russia, China and Pakistan will have the greatest influence on the situation in the war-torn country.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Anadolu Agency.