Question: What are your projections for the development of the situation in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal next year, and what security measures are taken to that end to guarantee stability in the Central Asia?
Sergey Lavrov: First of all, I would like to specify that it is not about full withdrawal of US armed forces from Afghanistan in 2014. The USA and its allies plan to keep more than 10,000 troops in IRA. The USA intends to leave nine big military bases in Afghanistan. The final decision on this issue has not been made yet Washington is negotiating with Kabul over that.
2014 is decisive for Afghanistan in many ways. Presidential elections in the country are scheduled on 5 April 2014 and the process of transfer of responsibility to the Afghan security agencies from the International Security Assistance Force is end by the end of the next year. The development of the situation after 2014 will in many ways depend on the success of these steps, as well as progress in national reconciliation.
Unfortunately, the current situation in IRA is far from stability and has aggravation trends. At the same time, we keep having an impression that the Americans and their allies want to leave fast and hand over security responsibility for the Afghan forces without considering the situation in the areas of this process.
Phasing out ISAF forces in IRA should be coupled with strengthening Afghan security forces despite the decline in their numbers to avoid security collapse to achieve that they are eventually able to control security in their state, to effectively counteract extremist groupings and drug criminals. We do not see any noticeable advancement in this line. Events in Kunar Province in April where militants attacked an army post of the elite battalion of Afghan army rated by the Americans as being perfectly military trained. 14 soldiers were killed, and the post was overtaken and completely burned out because of this attack.
From our side we consistently assist Afghanistan in strengthening fighting capability of national security forces, establishment of IRA as a peaceful, stable, independent and neutral state capable of confronting terrorists, drugs and organised crime. In practical terms, we are helping IRA train military, police and drug combating professionals and upgrade their capabilities.
Developments in Central Asia, are directly linked to the Russian national security. You are right that the today’s processes in Afghanistan seriously affect the entire situation in the region. There is a threat of its destabilisation. Even more so that ethnic Uzbek and Tadjik extremist and terrorist groupings in the north of IRA are already working on the plans to penetrate territories of Central Asian countries.
We are assisting our partners in Central Asia in various ways to boost the economic potential of state of this region. In particular, I am talking about contributing to the development, anti-crisis measures, support to the budget, food and humanitarian assistance. Russia’s help to Central Asian countries in 2008 to 2012 made more than 1 billion dollars.
At the same time we contribute to boosting defence capabilities of states of this region. The long-term Russian military presence in these states approved during visits of President Vladimir Putin to Kyrgyzstan and Tadjikistan in September and October is an additional guarantee of stable development of Central Asian states.
CSTO activities in the Central Asian region is oriented to stability building. The territory of Afghanistan is adjacent to the CSTO area of responsibility in the north. The topic of confrontation terrorism, extremism and drug threats is subject to key attention on behalf of member states and is regularly discussed at different levels and in different formats. We exchange relevant data, hold target meetings, joint operations on combating these challenges and threats.
We draw major attention to strengthening the most extended Tadjik-Afghan border with very complex landscape, primarily its logistics. We are working on this in the bilateral format between member states and in the multilateral format – within CSTO. We assist Kyrgyz party in this issue in all possible ways.
The participation of CSTO countries is not of minor importance, when stabilisation of the situation in Afghanistan is concerned, including securing safe transit of ISAF cargo to Afghanistan and back through territories of member states.
We are attaching importance to boosting capabilities of international organisations such as the UN and the SCO in a drive to expand bilateral and multilateral cooperation with the Central Asian countries in the fight against drug trafficking, terrorism and Islamic extremism.