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Karzai to Visit Russia - 2002-03-10

Afghan interim president Hamid Karzai is scheduled to visit Russia Monday for talks that will focus on the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai's upcoming trip to Moscow is expected to center on the role Russia may play in helping rebuild Afghanistan. He is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking Russian officials during his two-day visit.

Russia has a long-standing interest in Afghanistan, which shares a border with three former Soviet republics: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 only to withdraw ten years later in a humiliating defeat.

After the Taleban came to power in 1996, Moscow was one of the main backers of the Northern Alliance, the opposition group that fought the Taleban. The Russian government funneled military equipment into northern Afghanistan through neighboring Tajikistan, where Russia has about 10,000 troops stationed.

One of the main concerns Russia has is that the Islamic extremism from Afghanistan may spread into the former Soviet republics and from there into Russia.

Another main topic of discussion during Mr. Karzai's visit to Russia is expected to be the drug trade. During the Taleban's reign, Russia was a main transport route for drugs produced in Afghanistan by both the Taleban and Northern Alliance. Moscow would like to make sure that under a new Afghan government, the production and sale of drugs does not once again become a major problem.

But it is unclear how much financial help the cash-strapped Russian government can offer Mr. Karzai to rebuild his country, which has suffered decades of war.