The Obama administration has welcomed Russia’s revived interest in influencing developments in Central Asia as the United States looks to next year withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. Admitting that the United States was unable to meet the needs of nations like Afghanistan and Pakistan, US Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley said agreements reach at this month’s summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Central Asian leaders focused on stabilizing the region and combating terrorism and drugs trafficking contributed to US strategy in the region.
Medvedev’s talks with the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan come two months after Russia launched an international effort at a forum in Moscow to combat drugs trafficking in Afghanistan. During the Sochi summit Medvedev promised to deepen economic ties with Central Asian nations, revive Soviet-era energy and social development project, significantly increase flood-aid to Pakistan and accelerate and expand Russian helicopter production, especially of the Mi-17 and Mi-35 for export to the region. Russia is already refurbishing some 140 Soviet-era installations in Afghanistan, such as hydroelectric stations, bridges, wells, and irrigation systems in deals valued at more than $1-billion.
Medvedev further announced in Sochi that Russia would spearhead a World Bank-sponsored program to expand hydro-electric dams in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan that would supply surplus electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The four presidents agreed to link Central Asia to the CIS railway system by building a railroad and highway that will connect Pakistan and Tajikistan.
US officials say renewed Russian involvement in Central Asia is fueled by concern in Moscow that regional terrorism and drugs trafficking will fuel separatism in the Black Sea basin. Russia’s renewed commitment comes two decades after Soviet troops fought a 10-year bloody war in the country that lies in many ways at the root of Afghanistan’s current problems.