Russia Enlarging role in Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON: With the US-led war winding down and Russia reasserting itself in Ukraine and the Middle East, Moscow has also started ramping up its investment in Afghanistan, The Washington Post reported on Saturday.

A newspaper report said Russia is rebuilding the relics of the Soviet occupation and promoting its own political and cultural prowess.

“You see Russia’s interest in Afghanistan rising. It’s visible,” said Stepan Anikeev, the spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Kabul. “We want to enlarge our role in the region. It’s not only for Afghanistan, but for our own goals,” the spokesman said according to the Kabul-datelined story.

The Post report noted that Russia’s ‘recent incursion’ into its neighbour, Ukraine, and its annexation of Crimea reflect its intent to maintain influence in some former Soviet republics.

Moscow is also reaching out to old allies further afield. Last month, President Vladimir Putin received Egyptian army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, whose relations with Washington have been strained since a coup last summer, and expressed support for the military man’s expected presidential bid.

The report says Russia is also negotiating a major arms deal with Sissi and agreed in 2012 to sell Iraq $4.3 billion in weapons.

“In Afghanistan, Russian officials point to their development activities as a counterexample to US aid projects which many Afghans criticize as wasteful and misguided.”

According to the Post, the new warmth between the Kremlin and Afghanistan was visible this week when the Afghan government released a message from Putin marking the Islamic new year.

“It was the only such message made public, and was released at a time when the United States and European governments are imposing sanctions on Russia for its expansion into Ukraine.

“I am certain that friendly ties and cooperation between Russia and Afghanistan in the future will add to the goodness and welfare of our people,” Putin said in the message to Karzai, which was translated into Dari, the local language.

The report says the Russian government has compiled a list of 140 Soviet-era projects that it would like to rehabilitate, according to the embassy.

The Kabul House building Factory, the country’s largest manufacturing facility, was the first to receive assistance last fall: $25 million in new equipment.

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