Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 185

The start of airstrikes against Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network has elicited reactions from across Russia’s political spectrum. Most politicians and other observers have spoken out against Russia’s direct military participation in the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign. State Duma Deputy Gennady Seleznev said he was sure that Russia would manage to avoid “military participation,” while Frantz Klintsevich, first deputy head of the pro-Kremlin Unity faction in the Duma and a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, said that the Russian army “in no case should participate in military operations.” In a separate interview, however, Klintsevich said that while he opposed the use of Russian troops against the Taliban, the use of Russian military advisers and specialists was “necessary.” Vladimir Lukin, a Duma vice speaker and former Russian ambassador to Washington, said that the participation of Russian ground forces in Afghanistan would be “a big stupidity for both historical and objective reasons.” Lukin said the main task at the present time was to keep the Taliban out of Uzbekistan–something that would require the joint efforts of Russia, the United States and other countries in the antiterrorist coalition.

Like Lukin, other politicians worried about the implications of the war in Afghanistan for Central Asia–in particular, the possible flow of refugees from Afghanistan into neighboring Central Asian states. Vyacheslav Volodin, head of the Fatherland-All Russia faction in the Duma, said that Russia should be ready to provide humanitarian aid and set up refugee camps, but also to set up “filtration camps” to prevent “bandits”–meaning terrorists–from entering neighboring states along with the refugees. Irina Khakamada, a deputy Duma speaker and member of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) faction, also called the potential refugee flow a “serious threat.” Echoing Volodin’s comments, Konstantin Kosachev, deputy chairman of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, said that Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov’s decision to allow the United States to use Uzbek bases could result in a large influx of refugees into Uzbekistan, including those who could end up in the ranks of the opposition Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Sergei Ivanenko, deputy head of the Duma’s Yabloko faction, called for strengthening Uzbekistan’s and Tajikistan’s borders with Afghanistan, arguing that the absence of fortified borders between Russia and both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan meant that the latter two states’ borders with Afghanistan were effectively “our borders.” Ivanenko said that while it was for now necessary to aid Uzbekistan and Tajikistan militarily and politically, “discussions about our military participation in protecting their borders” could not be ruled out in the future (see Central Asian stories in this issue).

Not surprisingly, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), put forward the most apocalyptic scenario. He predicted that refugees from Afghanistan would flow into Central Asia and Siberia; that Russia would be drawn into the fighting in Afghanistan; that the Russian army’s 201st division, located on the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, would be destroyed; that Russia’s relations with Iran, Azerbaijan and other countries would worsen. A more upbeat assessment was provided by Gennady Raikov, leader of the Duma’s pro-Kremlin People’s Deputy group, who predicted that the defeat of the Taliban would lessen the flow of money, weapons and mercenaries to the Chechen rebels and thereby allow Moscow to complete its “counterterrorist” operation in Chechnya more quickly.

While there has thus far been little open condemnation of the U.S. strikes in Afghanistan, there have been exceptions. Yegor Ligachev, the State Duma deputy who once headed the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, said that the United States was carrying out a “disgusting and criminal” war not against terrorists, but against “a country and a whole people” (Kommersant, Vremya Novostei, Moskovsky Komsomolets, October 9).