The Afghan quagmire, which cost 14,000 Russian lives, resonates as painfully in Russian as the Vietnam War does in the United States.
Twenty years after the last Russian soldier walked out of Afghanistan, Moscow is gingerly pushing its way back into the country with business deals and diplomacy, and promises of closer ties to come.
Russia is eager to cooperate on economic matters in part by reviving Soviet-era public works, its president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, said Wednesday during a summit meeting with the leaders of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, the second such four-way meeting organized by Russia in the past year.
In fact, Russia has already begun a broad push into Afghan deal-making, negotiating to refurbish more than 140 Soviet-era installations, like hydroelectric stations, bridges, wells and irrigation systems, in deals that could be worth more than $1 billion. A Russian helicopter company, Vertikal-T, has contracts with NATO and the Afghan government to fly Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopters throughout the country.
The Kremlin is also looking to blunt Islamic extremism in Central Asia, which poses a threat to Russia’s security, particularly in the Caucasus, and to exploit opportunities in the promising Afghan mining and energy industries.
The Kremlin’s return to Afghanistan comes with the support of the Obama administration, which in retooling its war strategy has asked Afghanistan’s neighbors — including Russia, whose forces the United States helped oust — to carry a greater share of the burden of stabilizing the country.
“There is every reason to note significant progress in relations between our countries,” Mr. Medvedev said to his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, at the meeting, held at Mr. Medvedev’s summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, according to Russian news agencies. “Russia is prepared to develop ties with its Afghan partners.”
The Kremlin is proceeding cautiously, however, as the Afghan quagmire, which cost 14,000 Russian lives, resonates as painfully here as the Vietnam War does in the United States.
While Mr. Medvedev hosted the meeting, he was actually more in the salesman’s role than the buyer’s. The Russian economy, dragged down by low prices for oil and other commodities and savaged by the financial crisis, shrank by 8 percent last year and is expected to grow by only 4 percent this year.
Studies by American geologists have indicated that Afghanistan is ripe for a potentially profitable mining boom, and others are already piling in.
Recently, the Kremlin has sharply criticized the United States for tolerating poppy cultivation, because much of the Afghan opium crop is finding its way to Russia and contributing to rising rates of heroin addiction.