A Foot in the Door

31 May 2011


A Deal for a Russian-Built Helicopter

Mi-17V-5, Export version of the Mi-8MTV-5, which latter is described as, “a military utility transport helicopter, powered by two Klimov TV3-117VM turboshaft engines and equipped with a loading ramp instead of the clam-shell doors, an additional door and a new 'dolphin nose'.” (Wikipedia).

Presents Opportunities for both East and West

An item in the Financial Times, Russia signs Afghan arms contract with US, drew my attention to the fact that the Pentagon has concluded a deal with Russian firm Rosoboronexport (the Russian state arms export monopoly) to purchase twenty-one (21) helicopters from the Mil helicopter production facility in Kazan. The article in the Financial Times led me to another article in The Hindu, Russian choppers for Afghanistan, which named the specific model of the helicopter, and which quoted Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to Russian President Medvedev, as saying, “It is the first large contract Russia signed directly with the U.S. Ministry of Defence.”

Sergei Prikhodko, on the left, acknowledged that the arms deal for the Mi-17 copters was the first directly between the Kremlin and the Pentagon.

This deal is interesting in so many ways that it would be difficult to spell them all out. For starters, the Mi-17 was purpose-built for Russian operations in Afghanistan, which means that the helicopter is particularly suited to these operations, and the Afghan pilots are familiar with it. The Pentagon has defended the deal on this basis — and it is an eminently reasonable basis — but the primary motivation for the deal, according to the Financial Times, was political. And we certainly know that we have come a long way from the Cold War when the former existential foes are willing to enter into a arms purchasing agreement.

Russian technicians may provide maintenance services for US-purchased Mi-17 helicopters in Afghanistan.

While the Financial Times article says, “There has been no question of a return of Russian troops to Afghanistan,” the article in The Hindu states that, “Russia will also provide spare parts, ground support equipment and maintenance services.” That is to say, there certainly won’t be any Russian combat troops in Afghanistan, but there will be technical support. This is one foot in the door, and an important foot. While at the present moment it is nearly inconceivable that Russian troops would participate in a NATO mission, it is eminently conceivable that this would happen in the future, and not in the terribly distant future, either. For one thing, the Russians are very concerned about security on their border, and this partly explains with cooperative relationship with NATO. For another thing, Russian technical and maintenance personnel could at some time be used as a justification for Russian security personnel to supervise their countrymen.

The 'Stans of Central Asia include the nation-states of, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, as well as numerous non-state regions.

Another foot in the door is the simple fact of minimal US-Russian cooperation in the ‘Stans. This crucial region on the European periphery is known for harboring terrorists and criminals, and is also known for arms trafficking. Vast tracts of this relatively uninhabited land are lightly policed if at all, and arms continue to flow over ancient trails on pack animals, as they have moved for thousands of years through this region. This tradition did not begin with US covert operations (I’m thinking of the Stinger missiles that went through Pakistan to pre-Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan) in the region, and it certainly did end with the termination of this particular arrangement. The method is slow but sure, tested by time, and sure to continue.

Mujaheddin preparing to fire a stinger missile. The missiles entered Afghanistan on pack animals taken through mountain passes. Source: National Geographic

Another foot in the door is the bare fact of a US-Russian arms purchasing agreement. Whether we think of this as a foot in the door for Russia or a foot in the door for the US doesn’t really matter. There are opportunities for both sides here, and if rational heads prevail, cooperation could benefit both in numerous ways. This cooperation could be very easily derailed by the equivalent of another Chechen War or another Georgian War, or even the US taking robust steps for formal security arrangements with Georgia or Ukraine. The latter now seems unlikely, but the former is not out of the question.

While there are benefits and risks for each party to this deal, clearly the benefits outweigh the risks. The risks are primarily the sort of events the erupt such as I mentioned above; ultimately these events are less important than the shared US-Russian desire for stability, which is predicated upon structural concerns of the region rather than episodic grievances that sometimes inspire violence and militancy. Indeed, the desire for stability is precisely the desire to avoid sudden and unexpected wars that tend to pop out of nowhere in the Balkans and the Caucasus.

With this observation, and the continuing focus on stability and joint US-Russian interests, we can see our way clear to future settlements in problematic regions like Georgia and Ukraine, and perhaps even long-standing disputes such as the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. If no unpleasant surprises derail US-Russian cooperation, this cooperation would expand to other matters, and possibly even in the fullness of time the relationship could expand to the point of not merely hoping that a political explosion will not derail peace, progress, and prosperity, but perhaps could lead to proactive efforts to settle disputes in such a way that the political explosions are minimized and do not result in the outbreak of wars. This is perhaps a hopeful observation, but it is not impossible.

. . . . .

This picture is identified on the internet as being the same version purchased by the Pentagon for Afghanistan.

. . . . .


. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: