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Karzai visits Moscow as Russia eyes greater role in Afghanistan

During President Karzai's visit, Afghanistan and Russia are likely to sign agreements on political, social, economic, and defense cooperation initiatives.

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Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai inspects the honor guard during a welcoming ceremony after arriving on an official visit at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on Jan. 20.

Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

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President Hamid Karzai is in Moscow this week for the first bilateral summit between the two countries in two decades. The last Afghan president to visit Moscow on a state visit was Mohammad Najibullah, the final Soviet-backed president during whose term in office the Soviet Union withdrew forces.

The Soviet Union disintegrated soon after. Russia then kept a safe distance from involvement in the messy politics of Afghanistan, although it kept a watchful eye on the country.

Now, Russia is keen to play an increasingly larger role in the country and is gradually expanding the range and intensity of its engagement.

During Karzai's Moscow visit, Afghanistan and Russia are likely to sign agreements on political, social, economic, and defense cooperation initiatives, including the possible revival of some key infrastructure projects that had been implemented by the Soviet Union. Russia is keen not to only provide aid and training to Afghans, but to secure a piece of the aid pie for its businessmen in exchange for technical expertise.

Rehabilitation of the Salang tunnel, the main artery connecting northern Afghanistan to the south, for example, could be done with Russian expertise and international aid, say Russian officials.

Russia sees opportunity

Last year, the Russian government donated 20,000 AK-47 rifles to the Afghan government and trained some 250 Afghan police. This year it hopes to deepen its involvement and expand the number of military officers it trains in Moscow, says Andrey Avetisyan, the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan.

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