Lavrov’s Central Asia Tour and Recent Developments in Afghan Peace Process
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov embarked on a three-country tour on February 3, and plans to visit Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan throughout the week.
Many western outlets read the trip as a response to the United States (U.S.) potentially pulling out from Afghanistan. Turkmenistan and Tajikistan both border the restive country, and Kyrgyzstan is not far away. Western media also notes that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan both belong to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance.
In Kyrgyzstan, Minister Lavrov met with President Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Foreign Minister Chingiz Aidarbekov. Their topics of discussion ranged from Russian-language use in Kyrgyzstan, to economic and scientific cooperation. At the end his prepared remarks, he added that their talks “paid special attention to Central Asia, agreeing to further work together for better security in this essential region and to combine our efforts in countering terrorism, drug trafficking and other forms of crime.” When asked about Afghanistan, he noted that “when we speak about Central Asia, we primarily have in mind the threats coming from [Afghanistan].” He also took time to criticize the American approach to peace negotiations there, calling them an effort to “seize control” of the dialogue—keeping local countries “in the dark,” and pursuing a “unilateral and egoistical approach to foreign policy initiatives.”
His visit to Tajikistan is scheduled to include meetings with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin. Ahead of these meetings, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that the agenda would include several areas of bilateral cooperation, mostly in political, trade, economic, and humanitarian matters. It went on to cite “threats emanating from Afghanistan” as a factor making defense and military cooperation a priority. The Foreign Ministers plan to sign a program of cooperation at the meeting.
In Turkmenistan, Minister Lavrov will see President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov. They plan to discuss their mutual interests as Caspian littoral states as well Turkmenistan’s plans for its year as Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) chairmanship. Turkmenistan and Russia will also sign a program of cooperation during this visit.
Meanwhile, Moscow is hosting a controversial meeting of Taliban representatives, Afghan power brokers, and former president Hamid Karzai on February 5. Many Afghans in attendance are considered political rivals of current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, including factional leaders Ismail Khan, Mohammed Mohaqeq, and Atta Mohammad Noor. None of the forty invited Afghans are Ghani government officials, as the Taliban still refuses to talk directly to the administration.
Last week, Zamir Kabolov, a leading Russian diplomat in Afghan negotiation efforts, traveled to Pakistan to meet with the Foreign Minister and Foreign Secretary on the Afghan peace process.
These three developments—Lavrov’s tour, the talks in Moscow, and Kabolov’s visit—highlight Russia’s goals surrounding the Afghan peace process. Peace brokering in Central Asia’s preeminent conflict gives Russia the opportunity to wield greater security influence over the entire region. Tellingly, Kyrgyzstan has expressed willingness to open a second Russian military base on its territory in response to perceived threats from Afghanistan. Tajikistan holds the largest deployment of Russian troops outside of Russia. In contrast to the U.S., which is negotiating to find a way to withdraw from the nation, Russia is using negotiations to engage there more deeply.
These disparate goals could hamper peace efforts. As each side attempts to negotiate a solution that undermines the other, an already complex process becomes even messier. For the Afghan government, who has criticized both parties’ negotiations for neglecting to include Afghan officials, the tension is becoming frustrating. Representatives characterized the latest Moscow meeting as “not in the interest of Afghanistan and the efforts for peace process.” The same could easily be said for the Russo-American rivalry as a whole.
Photo: © Sputnik / Sergey Kuznecov