Anne Penketh: Nato's siren song may well drown out Moscow's bitter experience

Wednesday 27 October 2010 00:00
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If the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is indeed tempted to consider the blandishments of Nato, my advice to him would be: don't even think about it.

As the Obama administration desperately reaches out to be able to fulfil a promise that the draw down of the 100,000 US troops will begin next July, the Americans are looking for help. The irony will not be lost on the Russians, 20 years after the CIA plotted to spawn the mujahedin and Osama bin Laden, who defeated the Red Army.

The Russians do have a strategic interest in a peaceful Afghanistan located on the southern flank of former Soviet Central Asian republics – one that is not exporting terror or drugs across Russia's back yard.

As Afghanistan hurtles back down the road towards failed statedom there is much at stake. Its neighbours are all jostling for influence – not only Pakistan, but India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and of course Russia, which, because of its own ill-fated military intervention, could never be an impartial observer.

Following the Soviet withdrawal, the Russians backed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, which seized Kabul from President Najibullah in 1996. There have been recent attempts to take a more positive look at the "achievements" of the Soviet occupation, but I am sceptical that the Afghans' view of their former oppressors will have changed.

And so it is that I fear the Russians will not resist the siren song of Nato. They will return to Afghanistan – where the Soviets compared their experience to America's in Vietnam – because they see a possibility to influence that country's future. It may be "anything short of military involvement", as the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov puts it, but they will definitely want a say in who gets to sit at the top table. Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.

Anne Penketh is a blogger for The Hill in Washington and a former Moscow correspondent for 'The Independent'

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