Russia, China should communicate with new Afghan authorities independently from US: Russian scholar
Published: Aug 31, 2021 11:07 PM
In this handout image courtesy of the US Central Command Public Affairs, Major General Chris Donahue of the US Army boards a plane at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday. Donahue is the final American service member to depart Afghanistan. His departure closes the US mission to evacuate American citizens, Afghan special immigrant visa applicants, and vulnerable Afghans. Photo: AFP

In this handout image courtesy of the US Central Command Public Affairs, Major General Chris Donahue of the US Army boards a plane at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday. Donahue is the final American service member to depart Afghanistan. His departure closes the US mission to evacuate American citizens, Afghan special immigrant visa applicants, and vulnerable Afghans. Photo: AFP

Editor's Note:

As the curtain of the US' 20-year war in Afghanistan finally falls with the last US troops leaving the country, some observers noted the withdrawal, ugly as it looks, frees the US from a costly distraction to focus on its primary rivals - China and Russia. Meanwhile, the US did not cease sowing discord between Beijing and Moscow. How should China and Russia deal with and cooperate on the Afghan issue? What changes may take place in the China-Russia-US triangle in the years to come? Alexander V. Lomanov (Lomanov), deputy director for Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow), shared his views with Global Times (GT) reporter Li Aixin. 

GT: The US has evacuated from Afghanistan in haste. Although some critics, including some from the US, call it a chaotic "defeat," some also point out that US strategic contraction in the Middle East is aimed at shoring up core strengths to focus on China and Russia. What is your take?

While American troops were in Afghanistan, they were stationed very close to Western China and the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia. After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the American presence in this important region will decrease, not increase.

What happened in Afghanistan was a defeat for the US, but this defeat has little to do with military might. The "soft power" of the US suffered the most. In the 1970s and 80s, during the Cold War, an important moral argument in the hands of the US was the economic prosperity of Germany and Japan. Both countries were defeated in the World War II and occupied by American troops. Their example demonstrated that the US did not seek to keep the former enemy poor and weak forever. 

Moreover, an alliance with America provided them with an opportunity to gain economic wealth and political democracy. Now this is no more than a closed page from a history textbook, and not and appealing example from real life. The Western invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have not made these countries more prosperous and more developed. The US has demonstrated to the whole world that it can easily destroy a small state that it does not like, but it is not able to re-build a new prosperous country from its ruins.

This awareness is very important not only for average third world countries, but also for Russia and China. The events in Afghanistan have finally deconstructed the myth about the ability of the US to act benevolently by imposing a more effective and progressive state structure on another country. The US attempts to "take care" of others over and over again end in a large-scale catastrophe. Russia and China need to move toward the future along their own paths and never allow external forces to dictate them the course of development.

GT: The security situation in Afghanistan affects the regional situation, including the security of China and Russia. How do you think China and Russia cooperate can in terms of the situation in Afghanistan?

At present, it is most reasonable to follow the wisdom of Confucius - "listen to their words, look at their deeds." The ability of the new Afghan authorities to carry out the tasks of public governance is not yet clear, their domestic and foreign policy is far from being certain. However, we should not be passive and indifferent. Russia and China should communicate with the new Afghan authorities in order to independently listen to their words, and look at their deeds by own eyes. We should not trust too much what the West tells and will tell about the situation in Afghanistan. There will be a lot of confusion, emotions, self-justifications and outright lies in Western reports.

The Afghan people will be able to embark on the path of sustainable development only if this choice is made independently. The stabilization of the situation can create a precious chance to develop a national consensus within Afghanistan, to end a long domestic conflict and to start peaceful construction. Russia and China understand the value of peace and development. However, they also understand that the policy of peace and development cannot be imposed from the outside. The West is already trying to talk to Afghanistan in the language of political blackmail, threatening to take away Afghan state money held in foreign banks and stop the delivery of humanitarian aid. For Russia and China, such a language is equally unacceptable when communicating with other countries.

Alexander Lomanov Photo: Courtesy of Lomanov

Alexander Lomanov Photo: Courtesy of Lomanov

GT: In your recent interview, you mentioned that the Russia, China joint military drills defy Western expectations that there will never be close cooperation between Beijing and Moscow. In your opinion, in addition to military exercises, what other "close cooperation" between the two have taken place? Why else will be carried out between China and Russia going forward?

In the past twenty years since the signing of the Russia-China Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, our bilateral relations have been continuously developing. Now we have an opportunity to use this basis to upgrade our bilateral cooperation to a qualitatively new level. New areas of scientific and technical cooperation are emerging, including future-oriented plans of joint space exploration. We need to use precious capital of mutual political trust to intensify trade and investment cooperation, reduce barriers of entering the partner country's market, adapt our economic interaction to the Chinese strategy of "dual circulation."

It is very important to promote dialogue and cooperation between the intellectual elites of the two countries. On the one hand, we are grateful to President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping for their great efforts to develop friendship and cooperation between Russia and China, both leaders have created and accumulated a significant amount of capital of mutual political trust. On the other hand, one can often hear regrets that in our bilateral relations it is "hot at the top, cold at the bottom" - that is, active contacts between political elites still do not affect the broad masses of the people. This observation is justified, but in order to expand the grass-root base of bilateral cooperation, it is first of all necessary to involve the economic and intellectual elites of both countries.

We should admit that the intellectual elites of Russia and China are still adjusting to the new international situation. They have never been opposed to Russian-Chinese cooperation, but their priorities were previously placed beyond its framework. The dream of Russian intellectuals of the late twentieth century about joining the "common European house" did not materialize. The dream of the Chinese educated class of a stable, equal and mutually respectful partnership with the US has also become a story of the past. Now it is time to turn to each other to conduct deep and meaningful dialogue. 

Experts from both sides need to learn about the partner country directly, and not through Western English-language media, where the image of Russia and China is distorted beyond recognition. The former improper trust in Western publications about Russia or China is becoming dangerous, since uncritical assimilation of the theses of Western propaganda can lead to erroneous judgments and miscalculations in our mutual assessments and planning. As a practical step, we can think about declaring a Year of Cooperation between Think Tanks of Russia and China following the Years of Scientific, Technical and Innovative Cooperation. That will help attract additional attention and resources to establishing direct and profound cooperation between intellectual elites of Russia and China.

GT: In early August, the US kick-started two "large-scale" military exercises, LSE2021 and LSGE21. Some observers said the drills intended to demonstrate that the US can simultaneously confront China and Russia. Do you think the US can simultaneously confront China and Russia, militarily or geopolitically? 

The US military power has been huge for many decades, and no one ignores it. The US military budget significantly exceeds the military budgets of Russia and China. This is remembered clearly both in Russia and in China. 

On the other hand, the scenario of a simultaneous conflict between the US and Russia and China is speculative, since in case of such development the world will immediately be on the verge of a full-scale nuclear war. American military exercises were indeed demonstrative, but this demonstration was intended primarily for US allies. As the US talks more and more about its desire to contain China by military means, US allies in Europe are increasingly afraid of losing American support in their confrontation with Russia.

Washington understands it and therefore seeks to convince its allies that they can afford to offend the interests of both Russia and China without fearing about consequences. The West uses the tools of NATO and the QUAD, along with the slogans of a broad "democratic alliance" to create new frontiers of global confrontation. The US hopes that Russia and China will have an ever-increasing number of adversaries that will divert the forces and resources of our nations away from the needs of domestic development. Taiwan will be used against China again and again, and political elites of Eastern Europe will continue to perpetuate their anti-Russian policy. In exchange for participation in the confrontation, they will get more US military assistance and new promises of economic support. Therefore, Russia and China have common tasks in the outside world - we should to build bridges of friendship instead of erecting new walls of discord, and have more and more friends and like-minded supporters.

GT: Some analysts suggest that the Biden administration may take measures to ease tensions with Russia in order to concentrate on dealing with China. What is your take on this? Will this strategy alienate Russia from China and draw it closer to the US?

This is not the only possible scenario for the implementation of the American divide and rule strategy. Some experts are discussing the prospects of new "big deal" between China and the US, as a result of which the US would stop attacking the Chinese political system and abandon military pressure on China on its near borders in exchange for indisputable recognition by China of American leadership in the world order. 

However, the US does not want equal partnership relations with either Russia or China. American experts routinely discuss the prospects of inducing a split in Russia-China relations using methods of psychological warfare and propaganda. They are not talking about the complete lifting of unfair sanctions, nor to mention about the rejection of the hegemonic policy.

An article published recently on the Foreign Affairs website by influential international relations expert Charles Kupchan on how the US could most effectively split Russia and China should be of great interest to both Russian and Chinese analysts. The US intends to constantly remind Russia that China's power is much greater to fan psychological inferiority complex, and to inflame Russian suspicions about China's presence in Central Asia and the Arctic. Special attention should be paid to the advice of an American expert to start immediately sowing the seeds of discord between Russia and China among the young generation of Russian bureaucrats. 

This is a good reminder to us that the future belongs to young people, and that the slogan of passing the tradition of friendship between Russia and China from one generation to another should not be empty and formal. Our friendship is not a propaganda cliché, but a guarantee of a peaceful future and economic prosperity of both countries. There is no doubt that the American side will try sow the seeds of discord on the Chinese side with no less zeal, supporting inside China in every possible way the forces of blind nationalism that looks with superiority at all other countries. We must find the common strength to resist irrational emotions that an external force wants ignite in our societies.