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Russian Offical Visits Afghanstan

February 4, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Russia’s foreign minister arrived in Kabul on Monday to pledge support for helping Afghanistan recover from 23 years of war and instability that began when the Soviet Union invaded the country.

Igor Ivanov flew into Kabul airport, a battered airstrip still littered with burned-out remains of military transport aircraft, amid tight security.

Dozens of soldiers carrying assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers stood guard. The plaster facade of one building near the airport’s main terminal was still pockmarked with bulletholes from past fighting.

Ivanov met with interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai to discuss rebuilding efforts. Ivanov is scheduled to leave Afghanistan Monday night.

Russia has supported the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign in part because it is also interested in weakening radical Islamic groups. Those groups include militants fighting in the breakaway republic of Chechnya and in former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

Russia is concerned that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network has been training Chechen rebels and militants with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group active in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Russia fears that instability in those former Soviet republics could spread into Russia proper.

Since the defeat of the Taliban in November, Russia has extended humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, sending in workers to set up a field hospital and leading work to reopen the Salang Tunnel between Kabul and the north. The tunnel was originally built to assist the Soviet invasion.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. More than 115,000 Soviet soldiers fought there, and an estimated 13,000 were killed and 35,000 wounded before the Red Army pulled out in February 1989.

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