As the continuing political ding-dong between the United States and Russia continues, Vladimir Putin has sharply criticized the US war effort in Afghanistan. The United States itself likes to characterize the Afghan conflict as a collaborative effort, and is reluctant to even describe it as US-led. But the reality is that the United States has committed far more resources and diplomatic credibility to the Afghan war that any other nation, and it was, of course, a direct reaction to the 9/11 atrocities in New York and Washington.
Putin trashes Afghan effort
Thus, the suggestion of Putin that the war has been a disaster is directed squarely at the United States, regardless of how the government would choose to characterize it. Putin stated that the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated massively, and that the ten-year presence of an international military contingent in the nation has failed to bring any qualitative improvement whatsoever. Putin professed to be concerned about the situation, but in reality this is more of a diplomatic and propaganda blow aimed at his US rivals.
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It is ironic that Putin is choosing to speak about Afghanistan, as the history of the Russian supremo’s nation is intrinsically entwined with the landlocked country. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which began in 1979 and also ironically lasted for 10 bloody years, is often cited as a primary reason for the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, the situation in the country today has obviously been profoundly influenced by not only the military campaign orchestrated by the United States, but also the fact that the country has been in a war-torn state for several decades. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, it is impossible not to feel some sense of remorse and sympathy for the Afghan people, who have been unable to live in a situation of stability within the living memory of many citizens.
In addition to his opening comments on Afghanistan, Putin also suggested that the situation in the nation is aggravated by the growing activity of the so-called Islamic State. The comments made by Putin are interestingly timed, as Russia had previously showed diplomatic support for the American-led military effort in Afghanistan. This included the nation allowing supply shipments along a route of more than 3,200 miles through Russia and the former Soviet Union, referred to as the Northern Distribution Network.
US-Russia relationship deteriorates
But as the diplomatic relationship between Russia and the United States continues to deteriorate, Putin has obviously spied an opportunity to score some diplomatic and rhetorical points. It would be incredibly hard to argue that the situation in Afghanistan is satisfactory to the United States or its people, with the war having already been waged since 2001. If anything, Putin’s statement about a ten-year presence of an international contingent understates the situation, with the actual occupation of Afghanistan nearing one and a half decades.
And as the Afghanistan conflict rumbles on, Russia has since formally rescinded its permission for NATO to utilize the Northern Distribution Network. Clearly the Russian supremo is ready to play hardball on this issue, as the rivalry between Russia, China and the United States continues to expand and enter new theaters.
Officially, of course, the American-led military operation in Afghanistan has ended. President Obama called this to a conclusion on December 31 last year, but the reality is somewhat different to this rhetoric. In reality, 10,000 United States troops remain present in the country, to say nothing of the number of private contractors that will remain resident long after the troops have been withdrawn completely (assuming that this actually happens!).
Indeed, although the United States may choose to respond diplomatically to the comments of Putin, the fact remains that the security situation in the nation has been seriously deteriorating in recent months. Obama has announced that plans to remove troops from Afghanistan are delayed, and any plans for a withdrawal in the future appear minimal at the moment.
The comments of Putin can be seen in the context of the geopolitical chess game that is currently being played between Russia and the United States. ValueWalk has covered this in depth previously, but to briefly sum up the situation, an alliance of Russia and China is challenging the traditional Western power base that has been defined by the historical Anglo-American relationship.
As economic measures are taken by both power blocs in order to gain unchallenged supremacy, Russia has been placed under serious international pressure by the United States. Economic sanctions have bitten the superpower harshly, and the rapid disintegrating oil price has been seriously detrimental to the Russian economic situation.
Although there are organic reasons that the oil price has fallen significantly, it has been speculated in some quarters that this apparently natural slump in price has not been as random as one might imagine. It has been suggested that the United States has planned this strategy as it realized that it would seriously weaken the position of Russia in the world, and that the enthusiasm within the higher echelons of the US government for fracking are at least partly motivated by this economic conflict.
Under the scrutiny of this economic pressure, Russia and Putin have sought to improve ties with Asia in order to demonstrate that the nation retains a prominent position on the world stage, and even to push for a new multi-polar world order. With this in mind, Russia has suggested that it could set up its own central bank to rival the existing economic institutions, as a result of a series of demands to receive a more prominent place in existing global economic institutions being shunned.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that the War on Terror has been far from universally popular in the United States, and many US citizens remain unconvinced that there should be any US troops in Afghanistan at all, considering the vast economic deficit and debt of the nation.
As the relationship between Russia and the United States is to reduced almost Cold War levels of chilliness, such rhetoric and geopolitical posturing is likely to continue in the future.