Russian President Putin's ambition to form an equal partnership with NATO and the US stands in stark contrast to its behavior in its southern borders. Its behavior in relation to Georgia is an example that Moscow's imperial ambitions are not part of the past. Consistent use of economic warfare and recent bombings of Georgian territory show Russia's interest in preventing Georgia from slipping from Russian control. There is reason to doubt that a partnership between Russia and the West could function unless Russia starts abiding by the standards of conduct of its European counterparts.
The Pentagon may be scaling down its pursuit of Osama bin Laden after the defeat of the Taliban, but the U.S. military build-up in Central Asia is relentlessly accelerating. Interestingly, the leaders of the Central Asian republics seem to be falling over each other in their eagerness to accommodate Western forces. The Central Asian regimes have both common and different motives for encouraging US deployments. However, the cumulative effect of a long-term Western military presence in the region may be to engender deep insecurities in Russia and China whilst simultaneously placing security obligations on the West that it has little inclination or ability to discharge.
The transformation of the Central Asian Economic Commonwealth into the Central Asian Cooperation (CAC) comes as regional cooperation is desperately needed in the broad array of issues, from national security to environmental protection. However, past performance, petty rivalries, and the lack of economic and trade expertise make the prognosis cautious for the newly created body at best. Lacking adequate budget and trained staff, the new organization may face a mountain of mandates and lack of resources – a well-known prescription for failure.
In a December Financial Times interview, Vladimir Putin stated that the 1996 Khasavyurt agreement granted Chechnya de facto and probably also de jure independence. Putin claims that the war in Chechnya can hence not be termed a struggle for independence. Meanwhile, Moscow denies that official negotiations are taking place, although representatives of both sides are meeting regularly. And recently a Federal Law on the on ‘the Procedure of Acceptance and Formation of new Federal Subjects to the Russian Federation’ was adopted. Is Moscow trying to cut a deal with the separatists, trying to achieve a ‘voluntary’ accession of Chechnya to the Russian Federation?
By their respective attacks on the United States and the Northern Alliance in September, 2001, Al Qaeda and the Taliban hoped to oust their enemies from the Arab world and Afghanistan. Instead, paradoxically, they are in defeat and on the run, the Northern Alliance rules Afghanistan, and most importantly America has expanded and deepened its presence in the Muslim world. Nowhere is this new presence more visible than in Uzbekistan.
The ostensible success of negotiations in Bonn increased hopes of peace and stability in Afghanistan. The search for viable alternatives to the Taliban was based in the building of a "broad-based" coalition that could initiate a democratic process in the country. Strong pressure brought a deal between King Zahir Shah's group and the Northern Alliance which seemed to fill the political vacuum following the rapid collapse of the Taliban regime. However, being largely the product of outside efforts, this solution creates skepticism regarding its ability to unify and reconcile the country. It critically neglects local political tradition - a set of sentiments, prejudices and beliefs that during 250 years has formed the Afghan perception of legitimacy and loyalty.
The lightning deployment of a ‘limited contingent’ of Russian troops to Kabul in late November 2001 has served as a reminder that Moscow’s tactical aims and strategic goals in the Caspian area are to be taken seriously. While the troops belong to the Ministry of Emergencies (MChS) and their mission is presented as purely humanitarian – setting up a field hospital which doubles as the embassy – it betrayed a desire to jump right into the middle of the arena, ahead of US Rangers and Marines stuck with hard work at Kunduz and Kandahar. A key difference from the Russian paratroopers ‘march on Prishtina’ in June 1999 is that the Northern Alliance had arrived to Kabul a few days prior, to some surprise in Washington and to much satisfaction in Moscow.
After years of devastating civil war, Afghanistan has entered an era that could potentially bring peace and stability to Afghans. The recent advances of Northern Alliance forces in different directions suddenly changed the political scene in Afghanistan. The disappearance of the Taliban as a major political and military force, the Afghans’ desire to end the civil war and the interest of the international community in peace and stability in Afghanistan have all created grounds for the formation of a stable Afghan government. However, competition among major regional and non-regional powers has been a major external factor intensifying conflicts among various Afghan political groups. This has become a major hurdle in the way of establishing a central government representative of and acceptable to the majority of the Afghans.
The new fragmentation of Central Asia is a painful and unpleasant lesson for the local population. The imaginary borders of Soviet times have become real; they seriously impede cross-border migration of labor and trade. Land mines and numerous barriers for travel, pilgrimage, and communication greatly contribute to social tensions. Since September 11, extra security measures cause new problems for ordinary people in Central Asia: thousands of them were expelled from neighboring countries. In Central Asia’s security environment, border uncertainty and external challenges have become closely intertwined. A common regional agenda requires resolving the numerous border problems in a friendly and non-discriminatory way.
While the military campaign in Afghanistan has done much to end Taliban control over Afghanistan and put Al Qaeda on the run, steps to secure peace are lagging behind. The various warlords and factions in Afghanistan are all struggling for shares in power in the future government of the country, a struggle that could easily turn violent. Meanwhile, foreign powers have reverted to both covert and overt quests for influence. This risks bringing internal strife back to Afghanistan as in 1992-96 unless the U.S. takes visible steps to lead the way to reconstruction and reins in the regional powers around Afghanistan.