Russian Leadership Hopeful About Recent Develpments in Afghanistan

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) – The Russian leadership is looking at recent developments in Afghanistan as hopeful, the Russian foreign ministry’s spokesman Alexander Yakovenko told RIA Novosti Friday, April 30..

He reported about Afghan Foreign Minister Abdulla Abdullo’s planned visit to Russia on May 6-7 this year.

"Moscow welcomes the results of the recently-held Berlin international conference on Afghanistan which displayed adherence to the course toward that country’s revival under UN aegis," said Yakovenko.

The current state of Russian-Afghan relations are praised in Moscow. "On the downfall of the Taliban regime, Russia began rendering humanitarian aid to the Afghan people," said Yakovenko. "Hundreds of tons of foodstuffs, medicines and tents have been delivered; a mobile hospital with highly competent personnel was set up in Kabul; the aggregate volume of humanitarian aid has made $30 million." "Despite the continued sabotage by the Taliban, the new Afghan government is gaining ground, including in the provinces," continued Yakovenko.

"The transitional Afghan administration has made major progress in establishing its institutions and expanding its influence in the regions," said Yakovenko.

He indicated such priorities as rehabilitation of the Afghan national economy, mobilization of financial resources and completion of work on forming the new armed forces.

The Afghan leadership should now focus on the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in September, 2004, said Yakovenko.

He reported about Moscow’s talks with the Afghan side on adjusting the problem of the Afghan debt, amounting to $10.5 billion, according to Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin, and confirmed Russia’s readiness to meet Afghanistan halfway. Kudrin had earlier told reporters that Russia would write off 80 percent of Afghanistan’s debt.

Afghanistan’s Soviet-era debt does hurdle its economic relations with Russia, Yakovenko acknowledged. "Nonetheless, a good basis has been formed between Moscow and Kabul for interaction in the development of bilateral trade," he noted.

In the past two years, Russia has provided 78 million dollars for the creation of a national army in Afghanistan, supplying fuels, lubricants, spare parts, communication devices, and motor vehicles. A lot of money has been channeled into training programs for Afghan military engineers, Yakovenko said.

Due attention has also been paid to the education of Afghanistan’s future political elite, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said. Russia provides fifty annual scholarships for Afghan students, and will be willing to increase that number.

According to Yakovenko, Russia would like to contribute to the development of oil and gas reserves in northern Afghanistan. And it is ready to increase its natural gas supplies to Afghan thermal power stations.

Yakovenko also touched upon the problem of drug growing and trafficking. He said that Moscow was pushing for the creation of anti-drug security belts outside Afghanistan’s border.

"Russia remains convinced in the high topicality of the development of a comprehensive international strategy for countering the drug threat emanating from Afghanistan, including by creating exterior anti-drug security belts along the perimeter of that country," the spokesman said.

"Efficient solution to problems [facing] Afghanistan directly depends on the results of the battle against illegal drug production and trafficking," he added.

The drug business provides financial support for anti-government forces and impedes economic reinvigoration, Yakovenko remarked in conclusion.