In January this year Russian president Dmitry Medvedev publicly stated that Moscow would be taking a greater role in Afghanistan, increasing levels of military aid and the number of Afghan military personnel sent to Russia for training. These comments followed a visit to Russia by Afghan president Hamid Karzai and a year of Russian re-engagement with Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal in the early 1990s. While Moscow and Washington share an interest in supporting the Afghan government, a fierce battle for influence is emerging throughout the resource-rich region.
Moscow has actively courted President Karzai, and co-operation between the two countries now ranges from energy projects to weapons supplies and military training. Russia has also attempted to draw Afghanistan into the fold of a regional body, the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, and has taken advantage of the drugs flow from Afghanistan to increase its engagement with Central Asian states. These developments have frustrated Washington, which appears determined to maintain a long-term role in the region and exert control over the supply of energy to South Asia.
How this power struggle plays out over the next few years will be crucial in determining the future of the region, as Washington attempts to maintain some form of presence and Moscow attempts to become an influential actor in Afghanistan and a competitor in the battle for Central Asia.