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Lenin is smiling!

Russia’s regional policies are poised to take a dramatic turn with the move to offer an air base for the use of the United States to ferry troops and military cargo to Afghanistan. There is some delightful irony as well insofar as the base being offered is located in the city of Ulyanovsk on the Volga, which happens to be the birth place of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. 

The Kremlin move is strategic, geopolitically speaking. The Kremlin is signaling to Washington that the forthcoming Vladimir Putin presidency will carry pragmatism in Russian foreign policy to new heights if only the American side would reciprocate in some ways.
Indeed, Washington is reciprocating, too — signaling it might share with Russia as a ‘confidence-building measure’ some classified data relating to its missile defence system about which Moscow is visibly worked up. 
Now, in turn, this may need yet another reciprocal gesture by the Kremlin. Any guesses what it could be? To my mind, it is all crystal clear: Putin may well attend the historic 60th anniversary summit of NATO in May in Chicago. 
At least two Middle Eastern capitals (Tehran and Damascus) and one Far East Asian capital (Beijing) plus at least three Central Asian capitals (Bishkek, Dushanbe and Tashkent) must be shell-shocked by the timing of it all. But they shouldn’t be. Post-Soviet Russia has never hidden that its national interests and pragmatism will always remain the leitmotif of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. 
Besides, look at it this way. Moscow’s compulsions are genuine and are, perhaps, understandable. The short point is, Russia is desperately in need of the ‘reset’ with the US to resume. Rhetorical flourishes apart, the stark truth is that Russian foreign policy finds itself in a cul-de-sac.
Russia will stagnate unless it can tap into western capital and technology. But the ties with the West are at a low point and Moscow is scared of becoming a junior partner to China. As the political elites in Moscow see it, the best happening for Russia will be if Barack Obama somehow pays attention to some of Moscow’s legitimate grievances. 
It is actually a windfall also for Obama to get the Russians onto his side of the Afghan war. Of course, Russia will make some money out of leasing Ulyanovsk base (250 million dollars or so annually) but for Pentagon, it’s okay. The bonus is that Russia won’t again play dirty by instigating Kyrgyzstan to shut down the US base in Manas. 
The US defence secretary Leon Panetta visited Bishkek Tuesday to broach the subject of the extension of the lease for Manas, which expires in July 2014. But Kyrgyz leadership, which is close to Putin, was non-committal. Washington can now expect Bishkek to climb down from the high horse.  
Again, if Russia and US get together on this ghastly business of the war in Afghanistan, Washington’s need of the two transit routes via Pakistan diminishes. In turn, Washington can hope to calmly negotiate the reset of its ties with islamabad.
Islamabad was pinning hopes on a visit by Putin which would augur a new chapter in the great game in South and Central Asia. But all that was predicated on the chill in US-Russia ties. Now, it may turn out to be a classic case of the miss between the cup and the lip.
If Russia becomes a ‘stakeholder’ in the US/NATO military presence in Afghanistan, Islamabad needs to figure out the implications. So indeed Kabul and Tehran.
All in all, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left little to the imagination when he said Wednesday, “We [Russians] are interested in having those [Americans] who counter [terrorism] issues facing Russia inside Afghanistan to do their job efficiently.” That was Lavrov at this best as a diplomat. Lenin’s embalmed face must be smiling. 

Posted in Diplomacy, Military, Politics.

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6 Responses

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  1. Johan says

    Citizens of Ulyanovsk protest against the NATO intrusion:

    “… On 17 March 2012 there was a meeting in Ulyanovsk house of councils, titled “Russia requires changes!” … Special attention was given to the criminal plan of the government to place a NATO military base in the centre of Russia, inside our region. No one will be deceived by the claims that the discussions are not about a valuable military installation, but allegedly about a transit point for transport of NATO loads from Afghanistan. Everybody understands that once entrenched on our territory, NATO can at any moment raise the issue about a change of status, and we will get not only NATO loads, but also NATO warriors. …”


  2. Johan says

    And now, this is getting even more interesting:

    “… MOSCOW, March 15 (Itar-Tass) —— A NATO base will not be in Ulyanovsk, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin wrote in his Twitter micro blog on Thursday. … …”


    Are Russkis playing language games?… Maybe … no “base” “as such” … but a transport centre serving NATO, operated by the Russians (!) … “Capitalists of all countries united”…? Fishy…

  3. Ibne Ashfaque says

    It just goes to show scared Russia is of the emerging realities in Afghanistan. So what are they fearful of? Afghanistan is a country of illiterate goat herders carving a subsistence living. The country is infected with crazy mullahs and gangsters who in their brutality could put Genghis Khan to shame. However, Afghanistan has one virtue that the elites in India, Pakistan and the tans of Central Asia who are Russian vassals cannot offer to their populace. The Afghan Taliban although brutal and regressive, offered to their populace an honest administration which has been acknowledged even by their worst enemies. Afghanistan under the Taliban was nearly drug free and peaceful.

    The populace in all the tans sit over vast resources (natural and other), their population growth rate is phenomenal (leading to a youth bulge), poverty is increasing at an alarming pace, while water power and all key resources available to the populace are shrinking. To crown it all the elite of all the tans whether they rule under the banner of democracy or dictatorship are corrupt to the core.

    These elites are scared, they have to ensure that no part of the tans may never ever have a model of corruption free administration (as also . It will be too contagious and dangerous. Hence, they are all uniting (Russia, NATO, Pakistan, China, India and the tans) to solve the Afghan cauldron, but only according to their own self interests which will eventually ensure that they will not get much done (at least that is the track record of the last 11 years) and something unexpected may emerge from Afghanistan. Which is bound to influence the thoughts and dreams of the subjugated and brutalised population of the tans? This cannot be allowed by the elites of the tans nor by their masters and associates in Moscow, London, Washington or even Rawalpindi and Delhi. Bhadrakumar Sahib, this is the cause of the synergy on Afghanistan among the hyenas, in spite of their obvious differences.

  4. Johan says

    The following snippet from the NYT report linked in the first sentence above is quite interesting:

    “… at a time when the White House is thinking about speeding up its withdrawal from Afghanistan — a move Russia opposes. …”

    Opposes … surely it does!

    It is in Russia’s interest that the U.S.

  5. Saul says

    Putin is bringing a new team on board. What meaning is there in Lavrov’s statements if 1) America does not drop missile defense (will not) and 2) there is a new Russian defense minister in September.

  6. Saul says

    This looks like more of a teaser from the Russian perspective than anything else. If anything, this whole shenanigan looks like an attempt at making fools out of the US

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