Russia re-engages Afghanistan on Karzai visit

January 24, 2011

MOSCOW (Agencies) – The president of Afghanistan and Russia have taken steps to resurrect economic and political ties that have been almost nonexistent since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was highlighted by the signing of an agreement that could pave the way for Russia to participate in ""priority economic projects"" -- including ones left unfinished after Soviet forces pulled out of the country in 1989, following nearly a decade of war.
Kabul's interest in increasing trade was visible in the size of Karzai's delegation, which ""Moskovskiye novosti"" correspondent Arkady Dubnov told RFE/RL's Russian Service contained most of the Afghan government.
Trade with Russia reached $500 million in 2010, according to Karzai, and Moscow's technical know-how in the energy sector can help the country. The agreement said that Russian specialists will help in upgrading the Noglu hydropower plant and in building small power plants in other regions.
Russia is also in talks to help rebuilding strategically important Salang Tunnel, a north-south route through the Hindu Kush mountains; a customs terminal; and a university in Kabul.
""Russia and Afghanistan cooperate in the preparation of Afghan military and the study of Afghan students in Russia,"" Karzai said. ""Of course, we are speaking about the expansion of cooperation in these spheres. We hope that Russia can help in the move to taking charge of security by the Afghan government at the end of 2014.""
---- Russia to back TAPI
In a joint statement Friday Medvedev and Karzai expressed willingness to cooperate in a range of energy projects including the construction of the Trans-Afghanistan (TAPI) pipeline.
TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) agreement was signed in December 2010 to pump gas to India from Central Asian states.
In October 2010, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said the country's gas giant Gazprom might participate in a consortium to build the pipeline. India suggested Gazprom join the project as one of the suppliers along with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
The 1,700 kilometer pipeline with an annual flow capacity of 30 billion cubic meters and a rough cost of $4 billion, which was stalled by the war in Afghanistan, is supported by the Asian Bank for Development.
----Russia to supply copters
Russia and the U.S. are expected to hold talks later this month to pave the way for supplying Afghanistan’s military with Russian helicopters, reports say.
Zamir Kabulov of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Asia department told the RIA Novosti on Friday that a group of experts from the ministry and Russia's state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, will meet with US officials in Washington.
Russia plans to deliver about 21 new Mi-17 multi-purpose helicopters to Afghanistan “under a NATO contract or to be part of a US-run tender” worth about $400 million, the report said.
Russia is currently assembling Mi-17 helicopters -- capable of carrying 37 passengers -- at two factories in the Russian Volga area city of Kazan and the East Siberian city of Ulan-Ude.
Photo: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai.