Russia’s still got chips in the Great Game

Epsilon/Getty Images Sport With 40,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan and U.S. “lily-pad” bases scattered over Central Asia, that region is pretty much closed to renewed Russian expansion, right? Not quite. While the West has committed much blood and treasure to trying to secure Afghanistan with mixed success, the Russians have been quietly building support among ...

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603251_070316_russia_05.jpg

Epsilon/Getty Images Sport

Epsilon/Getty Images Sport

With 40,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan and U.S. “lily-pad” bases scattered over Central Asia, that region is pretty much closed to renewed Russian expansion, right?

Not quite. While the West has committed much blood and treasure to trying to secure Afghanistan with mixed success, the Russians have been quietly building support among other regional governments. One vehicle has been the Moscow-based Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The grouping has moved ahead with plans to establish a regional air defense system, according to Euraisanet’s Sergei Blagov. And it’s developing tighter military and political ties in general, à la NATO. Now it’s also in discussions with Afghanistan to train military and police personnel in Russia and sell it Russian-made weapons:

If the intensified cooperation between Kabul and the security organization unfolds as envisioned by CSTO officials, it would mark a significant geopolitical setback for US interests in Central Asia … US inattention to Afghan reconstruction has played a role in the revival of the Taliban insurgency in the country. This, in turn, has created an opening for Russia to establish a security presence in the country …

The big open question, though, is: what’s China’s role? It’s interesting that Russia is pushing forward the CSTO; the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a different group with a mostly overlapping membership but dominated by Beijing, has in the past been much more active. Is China being shouldered aside in Central Asia too?

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