|Karzai hopes to secure Russian military equipment and training, as well as energy deals [Reuters]
Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, has arrived in Russia to discuss relations between the two former foes, including possible military agreements for Moscow to supply equipment and training.
If successful, the agreements would mark the biggest Russian involvement in Afghanistan since the end of the Soviet invasion of the country more than 30 years ago.
Karzai landed in Moscow, the Russian capital, on Thursday accompanied by a large delegation of ministers and business leaders after accepting an invitation from Dmitry Medvedev, his Russian counterpart.
Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency said Karzai, who is on a two-day visit, will hold talks with Medvedev on Friday before later meeting with members of the Russian business community.
The agency said Russia donated 20,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and more than two million cartridges to the Afghan interior ministry in November 2010.
Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton reporting from Kabul, the Afghan capital, said Karzai’s national security advisor, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, had told an Al Jazeera producer during the flight to Moscow that there were two reasons for the visit.
The first, said Spanta, was to gauge the possibility of contracting military equipment and for Russian training of Afghan security forces, and the second was to explore business opportunities including those in the energy sector.
Spanta also said the move was to secure Afghanistan’s own security after the US-led coalition leaves the country, which is scheduled to take place in 2014.
Turton said the US ambassador to Afghanistan was unhappy with Karzai’s visit to Russia without consultations with any of his coalition partners.
Spanta was quoted as telling Al Jazeera: “If Afghanistan has learned anything from the lessons of Iran it is that we don’t want to rely on one country or one group of countries.
“We want to have alternatives and that’s why we want to forge a new chapter with Russia.”
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, sparking a bloody US-backed Afghan resistance that cost hundreds of thousands of lives but eventually forced the Soviet army to withdraw 10 years later.
However, ties between Kabul and Moscow have developed since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the subsequent installation of the Western-backed Karzai as president.
In November, Moscow and NATO struck a deal to boost the flow of Western military supply shipments through Russia to Afghanistan.
There are about 140,000 NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, around two-thirds of which are from the US, tackling Taliban fighters.
Russia and Afghanistan have also vowed to step up their co-operation against drug trafficking in recent months, despite Kabul’s displeasure over a joint US-Russian drugs raid on a laboratory in eastern Afghanistan in October.