This message of good cheer came from an unexpected corner this week: Russia Prime Minister, , addressing the entire Duma in Moscow.
First, he set the deputies up by denouncing NATO as “a relic of the Cold War.”
Then, before the clapping could fade, he quickly added that, sometimes, just sometimes, NATO plays a “stabilizing role in world affair, such as in Afghanistan.”
“We understand what is happening in Afghanistan – right?” Russia’s educator-in-chief lectured the Duma. “We are interested in things there being under control, right? And we do not want our soldiers to fight on the Tajik-Afghan border, right?”
“It’s in our national interests to help maintain stability in Afghanistan,” he continued. “Well, NATO and the Western community are present there. God bless them! Let them do their work.”
For years, Putin has fanned anti-NATO sentiment. As recently as two months ago, he was using it to rally voters around his candidacy for president. Over the last 15 years, Russian TV viewers have consumed hundreds of hours of anti-NATO “documentaries,” each complete with spooky music and a kooky story line.
For Russian politicians, hammering on and on about the NATO threat is cost free and far safer than to talk of the geostrategic threat that dares not speak its name in Moscow: the 3 million active duty and reservists of China’s People’s Liberation Army.
But now, as Putin acknowledges, Russia needs NATO in Afghanistan.
As American taxpayers say “Time’s Up” on our Afghanistan decade, the Kremlin now realizes that it had the best of both worlds: American troops containing in remote Afghanistan a radical Islamic threat to former Soviet Central Asia — and the luxury of complaining about it.
As Washington moves to wrap up its fighting role in Afghanistan over the next 18 months, Russia’s foreign minister and the nation’s top drug enforcement officer responded last week with a classically American approach: they threatened to sue.
Putin’s NATO comments are part of different strategy — and directed at a different audience, the Russian people.
On April 7, a column of 1,000 protesters, largely communists and nationalists, marched through central Ulyanovsk, chanting “Russia Without NATO,” and waving signs reading: “No Russian Land For NATO,” and, in English: “NATO Go Home.”
After Putin gave the signal with his nationally televised address, Russian officials swung into high gear to defend the deal.
Foreign Ministry officials briefed reporters that no NATO officials will be allowed at the cargo transit center in Ulyanovsk.
Only 2 percent of Americans now see Russia as the primary military enemy.