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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Russia’s Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyuko signed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation last week. Gates hosted Serdyuko at the Pentagon.
“I don’t see Russia as a threat,” Gates was quoted as saying after the meetings.
Russia shouldn’t see the United States as a threat, either. Now that all that Communist garbage is in the past, there are plenty of opportunities for cooperation if the leaders of both countries can successfully shed that old Cold War mentality.
The United States and Russia tend to be rivals in many areas, and that will probably continue. I think we also tend to irritate each other from time to time, as well as spy on each other. Hopefully, our spies are more clever than that bunch of Russian spies that we rounded up last summer.
In spite of this, there are a number of areas where our two countries can cooperate to our mutual advantage. I think an important area is Afghanistan. There is already a plan for NATO to buy 20 Mi-17 helicopters from Russia for the Afghan armed forces. The Afghan military is already used to Russian military equipment and I understand that these helicopters are rugged and are also simpler to maintain than American helos.
I also understand that Russia is interested in providing other weapons to Afghanistan’s army. In photos I’ve seen of Afghan soldiers, they are always carrying AK-47s, so that’s the assault rifle they are used to. The AK-47 has a shorter effective range than our assault rifles, but they tolerate more abuse. A rifle that fires when you pull the trigger is better than one that doesn’t, even if it isn’t quite as accurate.
Building up the Afghan army is key to stabilizing that country. In order to do its job, the Afghan army doesn’t need the most sophisticated weapons and equipment in the world as they aren’t preparing to go toe to toe with the world’s best army. What they need are reliable weapons and equipment that they will be capable of maintaining. The Russians can provide that.
The United States and Russia have a common interest when it comes to Afghanistan. It’s in the best interest of both countries that Afghanistan never again becomes a happy home for al Qaeda, or other Islamic terrorist groups, where they can plan mayhem. Attacks carried out by Muslim extremists in Russia haven’t been on the scale of 9/11, but they’ve been more frequent. Russia is an easier target for them as Russia does not have our advantage of major ocean barriers between them and these jokers. Russia also has a large, restive native Muslim population in certain parts of the country, particularly in the North Caucasus region. It would be easy for them to get help from Osama and the boys if Afghanistan once again acquires an Islamic terrorist friendly government. I don’t know exactly what form this cooperation will take. President Barack Obama, displaying the same sort of stubbornness that George W. Bush was accused of in Iraq, continues to insist that we will begin withdrawing troops next summer, apparently regardless of the reality of the situation. I don’t know if Russia has the military capacity to fill the manpower vacuum we will leave. And, maybe we won’t pull an “exit stage left” next summer after all. President Obama’s words frequently don’t match his deeds, so it’s difficult to tell from his rhetoric alone, what he will actually do.
Russia’s military capacity will, however, allow them to provide valuable assistance. Russia also has close ties with the other “stans” in Central Asia and that, along with Russia’s geographical proximity to Afghanistan will be valuable as a significant portion of our supplies going to our forces in that country have to pass through Pakistan along routes where they are vulnerable to Taliban attack.
Now, if we can just get Russia, and China, to appreciate how dangerous a nuclear armed Iran will be.