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Fabrizio Vielmini: «Moscow lacks a clear strategy of action in Central Asia»

27.06.2008 14:22 msk

Ferghana.Ru

Interview Central Asia

Fabrizio Vielmini, North Italian journalist and political scientist, was one of the participants in the international conference, "Afghanistan, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Central Eurasian Security and Geopolitics" that took place on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan on June 11-12. An expert from Piedmont, Italy, and an expatriate in Central Asia since 2002, Vielmini advances unusual views on the processes underway in the region. Ferghana.Ru approached Vielmini for comments on events in Afghanistan, NATO actions there, and Russia's potential involvement in the process of a settlement.

Fabrizio Vielmini. Fabrizio Vielmini
Fabrizio Vielmini is an associate Research Fellow at ISPI (Istituto Studi di Politica Internazionale, Milan) and an expert for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Kazakhstan. Vielmini has been studying Central Asian affairs for over a decade. He worked for Observatoire Géopolitique des drogues (Paris), the OSCE Centre in Almaty and the Osh regional division of the OSCE in Osh. Vielmini is a contributor to French and Italian journals, newspapers, and radio and television broadcasts. A doctoral candidate at EHESS (Paris), he may be reached at vielmini@gmail.com. The views expressed are exclusively his own and do not represent ISPI.
Ferghana.Ru: What do you think the declared and actual purposes of the foreign military presence in Afghanistan are?

Fabrizio Vielmini: It is not an accident that the Anglo-American invasion of Afghanistan took place in late 2001, or just after the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The way I see it, the decision of the United States and Great Britain to center their Eurasian presence in this country should be ascribed to their loss of control over the processes taking place in the adjacent regions. Washington and London decided to seize the initiative again and began with Afghanistan, the theatre of the so-called 'Great Game' for nearly two centuries. On the other hand, there were some other geopolitical motives involved and inseparable from the decision to occupy Afghanistan.

First, the operation in Afghanistan offers these world powers a convenient excuse for the presence of their military devices in the post-Soviet Central Asian countries - in Manas (Kyrgyzstan), once in Uzbekistan and, maybe, in Mary (Turkmenistan) in the future. It is, however, a secondary consideration. What counts is that the Afghani operations justifies the existence of NATO and its transformation from a military bloc into a political organization intended to impose its rules on the territory spanning from Europe to Asia.

Afghanistan is the last link in a geopolitical chain, a mechanism underpinning the so-called Eurasian Corridor concept, a mechanism spanning from Eastern Europe into Central Asia, passing through the Black Sea and Caucasus region). This strategy permits the Alliance to bend all countries in this space to the political interests of the United States and Great Britain.

Ferghana.Ru:Are you saying that the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York was only an excuse for the invasion?

Fabrizio Vielmini: We do not even need to refer to conspiracy theories to say so. Common sense will suffice. The 9/11 operation was a so complex from the technical standpoint that the idea that it could be arranged from a cave somewhere in Afghanistan is but an insult to one's intellect. Give me an expert who will show the existence of a connection between the September 11 events in America and the war in Afghanistan! ... Even if the UN justified the international military operation in Afghanistan de jure, nevertheless the entire foreign military presence there is illegal de facto because there is no connection such as this. In fact, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are similar in that the excuses for them were fabricated.

Ferghana.Ru:Do you think Russia has the right to exert influence on the Afghani settlement? Especially after the war that the Soviet Union waged in this country and that took so many lives. And if Russia has this right, how can it be exercised?

Fabrizio Vielmini: To answer your question let me make a little historical premise. Afghanistan is one of the most artificial state formations existing in the world, more artificial than any other, for that matter. This state originated as a buffer zone between the Russian and the British empires. These two external factors are history now. Territorial formations between China and Turkey are artificial, as well, as are all of them except Iran. If we do not consider Soviet experiments with ethnic policy, we are left with the malignant legacy of the British Empire that no longer exists officially, but remains alive as a geopolitical phenomenon.

As for Afghanistan, I'd say that it would be plagued by problems until the border between Central Eurasia and South Asia will not be drawn along the Hindu Kush range. As things stand, Afghanistan is located on both sides of the Hindu Kush. There are northern ethnic groups and there are southern Pushtun there. It follows that it is quite all right for Russia, as the main player in the Eurasian zone, to speak of its interests with regard to the territories to the north of these mountains, the regions populated by the Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens and other peoples that were in the USSR with the Russians. As well, Iran is entitled to speak about Herat, a city that has always been part of the Persian civilization but ended up on the territory of Afghanistan, thanks to the British.

Russia has been the main player in Eurasia for three centuries. Russia is what German geopolitics defines as a Raumordnung factor. It is the organizer of the infrastructures, the main vector of modernity for peoples who have found themselves apart from the global civilization. Central Asian peoples were in decline for three centuries on end, right until the late 19th century when Russia gave them a chance to reckon with modern technical advancements and opened their territories to world interchanges.

I've been studying Russia and what impresses me is its unique ability to incorporate other peoples and cultures, granting their elites a place in the complex mechanism of its imperial structure. Other imperial expansions usually resulted in immense losses, fomented by attempts to level everything up, caused, in their turn, by the center's fear of internal differences. Russia, on the other hand, showed a unique capacity not only to integrate a number of different national elements, but also to make these incorporations an additional asset of its own promotion in world affairs. This is particularly visible in Central Asia, whose opening and development should be considered among the Russian empire's best accomplishments in history. Today's Central Asians are well aware of it since the majority of them (those who do not live off the budgets of their respective “independent” states) are clearly willing to find themselves in some new geopolitical formation together with Russia. It is, therefore, absolutely logical and justifiable that Russia should promote its own policy in the region. Regrettable as it is, however, the capacity to elaborate a coherent policy has never recovered since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Today, Russia lacks a clear strategy in Central Asia. The Kremlin is moving according to a utilitarian, short-term approach, which is tainted by a number of potential risks.

As for the Soviet activity in Afghanistan, in my works I insist that it should be termed "intervention" and, in any case, not "aggression". This intervention was carried out to assist an allied government to sustain the assault of the forces that, in the aftermath, ruined Afghanistan with their seizing of power. Great Britain and the United States had provoked the USSR into sending troops to Afghanistan through their sponsoring of the mujaheddin, which started many months before Soviet military involvement. Unfortunately, your country took the bait and walked into the trap. It is, nevertheless, time to acknowledge the massive contribution that the USSR brought to the development of Afghanistan, just like Russia had contributed to the development of Central Asia, before. The Soviet Union built a colossal infrastructure in Afghanistan and helped its peoples to realize their potential. Even Western observers admit this fact today.

Ferghana.Ru:Would you call actions of Russia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the region an "irritant" to NATO?

Fabrizio Vielmini: NATO is a Cold War fossil. It is something that belongs in the past. This bloc owes its continuing existence to the promotion of Anglo-Saxon interests in Eurasia. Afghanistan was one of the factors that sped up the disintegration of the USSR. I earnestly hope that now it will facilitate the end of NATO. The existence of this bloc is not warranted these days. The Alliance does not produce any kind of security. On the contrary, it is a net consumer of security. Consider all its actions beyond the initial zone of its responsibility. Apart from Afghanistan, look at Kosovo and Macedonnia, where NATO bombarded Serbia out of existence and then proceeded to calmly watch anti-Serbian ethnic cleansing...

Ferghana.Ru:Your opinion of the Issyk-Kul conference?

Fabrizio Vielmini: It was an ambitious undertaking. It is clear to everyone that the problem of Afghanistan should be addressed by alternative ways and means [alternative to those deployed by the international counter-terrorism coalition. - Ferghana.Ru]. Alas, Beijing was not present at the conference, and that's a pity. What could happen with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Afghanistan, this is not a matter that can be discussed without China.

European representation, too, was far from adequate. By in large, the conference was a bilateral discussion of the matter between the Afghani delegation and representatives of post-Soviet countries.

All the same, the conference was a success. The Afghani delegation was quite interesting because various political forces were represented. I liked our discourse with Akhmad Shah Massoud's brother, by the way. It was also very positive to have an Iranian representation, because Teheran was kept so far outside the negotiations by the Anglo-Americans, but no solution could be found without its contribution. Of course, conferences such as this should contribute to elaborating concrete recommendations for those governments interested in an outcome to the problems of Afghanistan.