Contrary to what is thought, Afghanistan has $900bn of hard mineral reserves discovered by US geologists back in 2007. The ostensible reason for US/NATO involvement in Afghanistan has never lain primarily in bringing democracy and women's lib to a benighted land but in the New Great Game in Central Asia.
Though considered a democracy, Afghanistan is dominated by fickle elites who have proved amenable to being bankrolled by those willing to buy influence there and with China and Iran aiming to gain influence, Russia has been concerned that it would be excluded.
Russia , as Anatol Lieven has pointed out has always had a fear of China which during the Bush II years in was prepared to overlook through joining China in joint military manoeuvres via the SCO in 2001. In this Orwellian world there are only permanent interests dictating the current realpolitik alliances.
In the elites at least this is not atavistic fear of swamping, but rather a cool calculation that if China continues to grow while Russia (relatively) stagnates, then in the end Russia will naturally become little more than a provider of raw materials to China, and, in consequence, even a form of Chinese dependency.Now Russia was not party to the construction of the TAPI pipeline was given the financial backing by the Asian Development Bank in 2008 but most of its financial backers who made up the bulk of the investment were NATO states intent on fulfilling this geopolitical ambition of blocking off Iran's rival IPI scheme.
Russia whilst prepared to work with China has proved willing to play the interests of China and NATO off against one another to maintain its status and interests in Central Asia. Russia can do that in exchange for quietly dropping plans to expand NATO into Ukraine and Georgia ( for now )
By assisting NATO in training helicopter pilots, selling aircraft to Poland and allowing arms and ammunition to be transported through Russian territory as an alternative to a Pakistani route which has come under repeated Taliban attack, the stakes in the New Great Game are clear.
NATO powers and the USA have continually had the construction of TAPI as a major war aim. By blocking the rival IPI pipeline, the West can continue to encircle and isolate Iran which has next to Russia the second largest natural gas reserves in the world.
What such alliances of convenience demonstrate is that the rhetoric of "A New Cold War " is a propaganda myth stoked up by those like Edward Lucas are inherently flawed. Afghanistan was always part of the jigsaw of geopolitics in Central Asia and with TAPI a large chunk of strategic and resource real estate.
Though TAPI was conceived of partly as one way for states such as Poland in particular to reduce its dependence upon Russia gas transit routes by diversifying supply elsewhere from landlocked gas republics such as Turkmenistan, Russia can now demand a stake in it.
As Central Asia Newswire carried the following bulletin recently, ( as did Radio Free Europe along the same lines ),
Friday, October 22, 2010 - Russia signaled during a meeting this week in Turkmenistan potential interest in working with member nations of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.Few in Britain are ever given the real reason for the War in Afghanistan or the reason why some 103 British troops have died in Helmand through which the TAPI pipeline is scheduled to run, Clearly, Russia does not want to take on that kind of burden on behalf of the USA but it wants to hedge its bets.
The interest was expressed during a state visit in Ashgabat between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. The meeting, which ended Friday, focused heavily on energy issues.
“The issue of Gazprom’s participation in the TAPI pipeline was discussed during this visit,” the Reuters news agency on Friday reported Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin as saying. Sechin, who sat in on the talks, oversees the energy portfolio in the Russian Cabinet.
“Gazprom may participate in this project in any capacity – builder, designer, participant, etc.,” Sechin added.
The more paranoid in the Pentagon could see this assistance as a sinister Kremlin ruse to get the USA more even bogged down in Afghanistan, but the reality is that Russia does have certain interests in not having Afghanistan implode in such a way as to trigger off ripple effects in its neighbours.
In The West, of course, there is seldom any mention of the TAPI pipeline or the New Great Game which is justified according to public diplomacy as being wholly about the "War on Terror", nation building, "humanitarian intervention" and enlightened self interest. The facts prove this not that convincing.