Days ago one particularly apt NY Times headline captured the growing concern and view from Washington: “With Afghan Collapse, Moscow Takes Charge in Central Asia.”
Over the weekend Putin announced Russia has shut its borders to Afghans now pouring out of the country amid the US exit and ongoing evacuation debacle, further castigating US and European leaders for placing refugees in neighboring central Asian countries – but which according to Putin is a potential threat to Russia as “We don’t want militants showing up here under cover of refugees.”
It now appears Russia will take its security concerns a big step further, in what will be seen as a defiant thumb in the eye to Washington. Russia’s RIA news agency is reporting that the Kremlin stands “ready to deliver weapons and equipment to central Asian allies that border Afghanistan.” Further RIA cited top officials who said these large deliveries would be done “at special low prices”.
In a Sunday speech Putin had cited recent Washington requests made of Uzbekistan as an example. The Russian leader slammed US efforts to resettle Afghan translators who previously assisted NATO forces in other countries as a “humiliating” request which ultimately poses a security threat to the Russian public.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday offered his detailed and blunt perspective on what he sees as the lasting negative security fallout to Russia and the region from the rapid collapse of the Afghan national government and ongoing crisis.
“Our Western partners are persistently raising the question of placing refugees in Central Asian countries before obtaining visas to the United States or other countries,” he said before a meeting of officials of the ruling United Russia party. He explained this presents the potential for the spread of terrorism, given anyone can now flow out of the war-torn country “disguised as refugees”.
“Who are these refugees? How can we tell? There may be thousands, or even millions,” Putin posed. “The border is a thousand kilometers – they will get on everything, a car, even a donkey, and flee across the steppe.”
It follows similar remarks he made Friday expressing deep concern over the impact to Russia’s borders, while also pointing the finger at the negligent policies of Western countries in often pushing regional countries to accept fleeing Afghans. Increasingly the United States especially and some European states are openly telling Afghans who once worked with the coalition to go to nearby central Asian countries while they wait on visas to the US and Europe to process.
On this point, he lashed out at Western leaders for pursuing policies while completely unconcerned over their detriment to Russia:
The Russian leader also slammed plans by western nations, including the US, to resettle Afghan translators, and others at risk of Taliban reprisals, to countries in the region, such as Uzbekistan. According to Putin, this is a “humiliating” request and poses a security threat for Russia.
This presents a looming security threat, given that regional instability in central Asia “is a direct concern for our citizens.” And that’s when bluntly stated the worst possibility and likelihood:
“We don’t want militants showing up here under cover of refugees.”
Primarily for this reason “we are not accepting refugees from Afghanistan,” he explained, while saying the foreign ministry has the huge responsibility of prioritizing the safety of the borders and of the nation.
He further referenced the Russian military’s experience in Chechnya, with the Beslan school terror attack and massacre of 2004 clearly looming in his thoughts. “We do not want to repeat what happened in the 90s and mid-2000s… we had these horrors that are now being repeated on the territory of Afghanistan.”
No doubt Syria was also on his mind, especially given that at the height of the war a ‘Chechen corridor’ of sorts opened via Turkey, allowing Chechens among other foreign fighters to bolster Islamic State ranks – posing the further danger these terrorists would eventually return home so near Russia.