The collapse of the pro-American regime in Afghanistan and the exodus-like evacuation should serve as a warning to the post-Soviet elite. The U.S. is indeed moving toward a policy of rigid geopolitical pragmatism, quickly and cynically withdrawing support for the regimes it once helped establish. Given this background, the multivector policy and flirtation with extremists threatens to bring down post-Soviet Eurasia’s political regimes. Let’s look closer at the precedent-setting lessons from Kabul and Moscow’s warnings to the former Soviet republics.
The situation in Afghanistan will be analyzed in many ways for a long time; assessments will range from conspiracy theories to moralistic writing about human rights and anti-corruption campaigns. The collapse of the pro-Western, obvious puppet regime could hardly have been unexpected. The fact that the Taliban (officially listed as a terrorist organization in Russia) would inevitably come to power had already been predicted as early as the spring of 2020.
However, the political shock caused by this event is of such magnitude that even the liberal media, which are usually friendly to the U.S. administration, have not dared to support the White House claim of an American victory in Afghanistan. The U.S. has been unable to cover up its shock and political despondency with traditional information manipulation. This is because the Afghanistan collapse brought to the surface all those tendencies that were understood by the Western coalition elite, but were not recognized publicly and were replaced by slogans about the restoration of Atlantic solidarity after Joe Biden took office.
The situation in Afghanistan has clearly demonstrated the gap between the words and actions of the U.S. and the Western coalition. This effect cannot be neutralized by media manipulation, as it was before, especially during the crises in Ukraine and Belarus.
One of the most significant outcomes of developments in Afghanistan will, in fact, be a crisis of Western media’s manipulative strategy, especially if the Biden administration cannot regain the monolithic support it once enjoyed from the mainstream American and global media relatively soon. This is one of the most important signs that the America-centric model of foreign relations is in crisis and could have a decisive impact on the future of the Western coalition when a unipolar world is no longer geoeconomically or geopolitically feasible.
4 Lessons From the Fall of Kabul
We should also note several significant medium-term aspects of the Afghanistan crisis that directly affect the situation in post-Soviet Eurasia.
First, the U.S. is indeed moving toward a policy of rigid geopolitical pragmatism, quickly and cynically withdrawing support for the regimes it once helped establish. This reflects a common sense understanding of limited resources. It is not so much a matter of Washington’s unwillingness to support seemingly friendly regimes in a crisis. This approach has always been implemented. But now the U.S. is not willing to give long-term support to those regimes, even if they are promising.
Afghanistan is almost a classic example of a country whose relations with the U.S. have been built on exploiting the country’s prospects in recent years.
Afghanistan was strategic logistically with respect to a number of important resources, and as part of a Security Belt with respect to important allies. This led to difficulties in making decisions about the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, which the U.S. only surmounted after a radical change in the geopolitical situation.
Now the process will proceed much more easily. The next candidates to lose U.S. support will be Iraq and Jordan, of course, and possibly certain Southeast Asian states as well.
Among the post-Soviet states operating under the same basic principle of promoting the prospects of a country are Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan. You may recall that it was the “geo-economics of promises,” including gaining U.S. support against China and Russia’s increasing influence, that provided the multivector policy backbone for most Eurasian countries.
Second, by destabilizing the political situation in different countries and regions, the U.S. makes it more difficult for its competitors to gain access to strategic areas, something which is not only realistic but is also quite feasible.
This approach has not yet fully worked in Afghanistan due to a number of tactical miscalculations in the field. Yet we should note Washington’s demand to relocate pro-American government and law enforcement personnel from Afghanistan to Central Asia, which would be the same as importing border instability (similar to the situation in the early phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict between 1949-1967). But even now, the U.S. continues its efforts to destabilize the region to counter Russian and Chinese interests.
The domestic U.S. political fallout from the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been harsher than anticipated, but it still remains manageable. There is nothing to suggest that the U.S. will not be able to return to the strategy of bringing chaos to Eurasia through Afghanistan in the near future. Moreover, the main goal is to use the Afghan gambit with some adjustments in other regions, such as the Middle East or even Latin America, not to mention Eurasia, which remains the most important, and so far, the safest battlefield for the U.S. in its efforts against China’s influence, and, to a lesser extent, Russia’s growing influence.
Third, although many post-Soviet countries count on the EU for its support, the EU can no longer be seen as a major player in global and regional geopolitical processes.
The EU retains significant influence only in the area close to its territory (e.g., the Mediterranean region). This is true not only for employing military force on a grand scale but even at a political level. (The EU’s weakness in terms of its military capabilities has long been clear, although France’s weakness turned out to be surprising.)
The EU’s real political role in Afghanistan has been wholly insignificant over the last year and a half. The EU was completely helpless beyond the agenda of its media, but even its participation in producing news, especially during the final phase of the evacuation from Afghanistan, was limited to developing an informational consensus regarding restrictions on refugee migration. This applies both to national governments of EU member states and to pan-European structures.
Finally, neither the U.S. nor other Western powers are willing to engage in socioeconomic development, let alone social modernization, of friendly regimes.
One could have drawn this conclusion based on the last five years of the Western coalition’s presence in Afghanistan. However, the governmental structure collapsed during the Western coalition withdrawal, demonstrating the scale of its incompetent efforts to socially construct and shape state authorities in Afghanistan.
For the first time in postwar history, the U.S. was unable to leave a friendly regime with capable and relatively loyal military forces. Even in Vietnam, the local army, police and intelligence services remained active for almost two years after the Americans left.
Naturally, decorative modernization once suited the vast majority of the post-Soviet elite, especially if they were allowed to access the financial resources allocated for this modernization. But today, in most post-Soviet countries, there is growing alienation between the elite and the general public.
Sociopolitical relics of the past are actively filling the void that has been created, diverting public discontent away from the political elite. The situation in Kazakhstan is a classic example of this. However, the unprecedented events in Kabul show how quickly relatively safe alienation, mitigated by social maneuvering, can escalate into a dangerous political collapse for the political establishment.
Russian Logic and a Warning for the Post-Soviet Elite
Russia’s attitude with respect to the Kabul crisis is being perceived as one of noninterference, and by some observers as playing along with the U.S. to create leverage against China. This is a speculative construct that does not account for the profound change in Russian foreign policy regarding geopolitical uncertainty.
Russia’s neutralism, which is providing certain favorable media coverage to the Taliban, indicates a desire to have a relatively free-hand policy with respect to the new Afghan authorities. Russia should not fall into the same 2001 trap again, which significantly reduced the room for political maneuvering in the Middle East and the Near East, including Russian interactions with various religious and political groups.
However, we should expect that Russia will strengthen its position in those regions soon enough. The struggle for leadership within the Taliban coalition is likely to continue and intensify, giving Russia additional leverage as an honest broker.
The measures that Russia took together with the Collective Security Treaty Organization states to strengthen the border with Afghanistan are inseparable from a series of public statements made by Russian officials in the summer of 2021. Together, they should be perceived as a warning to the post-Soviet elite about the dangers of the multivector policy and continued flirtation with radical circles both within and outside their countries.
We should also pay attention to the emerging assessments made during the Western coalition’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, suggesting the need for a substantial restructuring of the entire post-Soviet Eurasian security system and the fact that it cannot be supplied within the existing formal framework given the new conditions.
Moscow clearly understands that it is possible to form qualitatively new security arrangements in Eurasia only if the major post-Soviet elite revise the most important postulates of their foreign and domestic policy, which they are not ready to do yet. Otherwise, it is operationally impossible and politically impractical to provide security on the far frontier.
Under these circumstances, Moscow has logically put relations with post-Soviet countries on political pause, creating the basic conditions for its elite to understand that changing their policies is inevitable, and with no significant investment of organizational or financial resources. Now is the time for a pause in operations and strategic reflection. The ball is in the post-Soviet elite’s court, which must demonstrate that they have not lost their instinct for political self-preservation.