Think Tank
Valdai Club at Global Town Hall-2021: Russia's Policy in Afghanistan and the Relevance of the Cold War Experience for the Asia-Pacific Region 

For the second time, Valdai Club experts took part in two sessions of the Global Town Hall conference, which is organised by the Indonesian Foreign Policy Community. Global Town Hall is an open virtual platform which features a space for communication between world leaders and intellectuals, as well as various social organisations.

Lana Ravandi-Fadai, Associate Professor of the Contemporary East at the Department of History, Political Science and Law of the Russian State University for the Humanities, presented the Russian view on the situation in Afghanistan during the session titled "The future of Afghanistan and its impact on regional security". She stressed that the neutral status of Russia, which did not participate in the twenty-year war in Afghanistan, gives it an advantage as a mediator, but at the same time Moscow is forced to take into account the interests of neighbouring countries. In Central Asia, it has to balance between the interests of Tajikistan, which is actively opposed to the Taliban (the Taliban is an organisation banned in Russia.), and Uzbekistan, which is ready to interact with them. Russia realises that the situation requires negotiations between all parties, regardless of their ideological differences.

One of the main threats to stability, according to Ravandi-Fadai, is that a number of actors, both inside and outside Afghanistan, still want war and see it as beneficial. Russia is trying to act as a mediator to persuade the parties to compromise and reject provocations. At the same time, the expert pointed out that the unstable situation in Afghanistan could create security threats for Russia. “There are no oceans between us, so the problems of Afghanistan can easily become problems for Russia,” she said.

Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai Club, spoke at the session titled “The Geopolitics of Competition and Alignments: How Far will the Strategic Rivalries Go and What are the Chances for Rapprochement?” which focused on the situation in the Asia-Pacific region. He noted that Russia is both a part of this region and is distanced from it - not geographically, but mentally. Its political thinking is still too Western-centric. Talking about how the experience of the US-Soviet confrontation during the Cold War can be relevant for the US-China confrontation in the region, he stressed that the stability of the Cold War was based on nuclear deterrence and mutual assured destruction. Now, Asia will have to get used to the security gambles that the world was quick to forget about.

Lukyanov also pointed out an important difference between the Cold War and the current state of affairs. The Cold War was an ideological conflict, but both conflicting ideologies were based on Western philosophy and proceeded from a common cultural paradigm. Now it is possible that we are dealing with a clash of cultures, which significantly complicates the situation. America and China should learn to understand each other, he summed up. Another important difference, according to Lukyanov, is that during the Cold War weaker countries were forced to choose sides; in the current era, however, due to the decline of universalism they are likely to try in every possible way to avoid choosing and obeying others' rules.

In conclusion, he noted that one of the main victims of the post-Cold War period was trust in international relations. This period gave rise to the illusion of a transition to a new world order, but it is over and now international relations are working as trust in such a situation should be built on realism, honesty and a frank discussion of the balance of power and military issues, Lukyanov believes. China and the United States, as key actors in the region, must take these changes seriously and stop thinking that economic interdependence can protect us from war.