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Originally published March 23, 2014 at 7:01 PM | Page modified March 23, 2014 at 10:16 PM

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Why Afghanistan backs Russian takeover in Crimea

Russia’s insistence that it is righting a historical wrong in retaking Crimea, which was ceded to Ukraine by Soviet authorities in 1954, resonates in Afghanistan, a nation that lays claim to much of northwestern Pakistan.

The New York Times

Related developments

Obama crisis talks in Europe: With President Obama scheduled to travel to Europe on Monday to consult with allies, U.S. intelligence and military officials said Russian troops are massed along virtually the entire Ukrainian border. Obama is to travel to the Netherlands tomorrow on the first leg of a six-day trip he will use to mobilize opposition to Russia’s takeover of Crimea. While focusing on diplomatic and economic tools, he has joined European leaders in warning of further consequences if Russia continues its incursion.

Ukrainian officers missing: Three Ukrainian military officers on the Crimean peninsula remained missing Sunday and were believed to be held by Russian forces, a Ukrainian official said, as the Russians continued to seek full control of the peninsula’s military sites.The commander of an air-force unit stationed in the town of Lubimovka, the deputy commander of Ukraine’s navy and a navy captain were unaccounted for.

Ukraine aid: The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Richard Durbin of Illinois, said the chamber will take up a Ukraine-aid bill Monday when it returns to Washington from a weeklong recess. The bill, which includes about $1 billion in loan guarantees, has been held up over partisan fights on a proposed restructuring of the International Monetary Fund and new Internal Revenue Service rules governing political activity.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan this weekend joined Syria and Venezuela and became the newest member of a select club of nations: those that have publicly backed the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Citing “the free will of the Crimean people,” the office of President Hamid Karzai said, “we respect the decision the people of Crimea took through a recent referendum that considers Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.”

To the casual observer, becoming the first Western-backed democracy to express support for the widely denounced referendum in Crimea might seem an odd tack for Afghanistan, which depends heavily on assistance from the United States and European countries. Those nations wholeheartedly condemned the Russian takeover of Crimea and were unlikely to be supportive of Karzai’s decision.

But Russia’s insistence that it is righting a historical wrong in retaking Crimea, which was ceded to Ukraine by Soviet authorities in 1954, resonates in Afghanistan. Here, many believe that the Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, were unjustly cut off from their brothers and sisters when Britain laid down a border to separate Afghanistan from imperial possessions in South Asia.

Most of the world recognized the frontier, known as the Durand Line, as the international border when Pakistan became independent in 1947. But Afghanistan did not, and it still lays claim to much of northwestern Pakistan.

Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Karzai, said the Russian annexation of Crimea was a “legitimate move” and that the palace statement represented Afghanistan’s official recognition of the new borders.

“Afghanistan always respects the free will of the nations on deciding their future,” he wrote in an email. He did not elaborate.

Apart from dreams of restoring its own historic geography, Afghanistan has other reasons to offer Russia its support.

With the Americans pulling back, it is looking for assistance from other quarters, and Russia has been increasingly active in offering development aid. Given Russia’s heavy influence on countries along Afghanistan’s border, maintaining a long-term relationship with the Kremlin is seen as essential to Afghan foreign policy.

In the shorter term, there is also the matter of Karzai’s pique with his American and European allies.

The announcement, tellingly, came in the final two paragraphs of a statement about Karzai’s meeting on Saturday with three visiting American members of Congress.

The statement covered expected ground, saying Karzai discussed a stalled security deal with the United States and other matters with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.; and Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.

Then, according to the palace, the discussion turned to matters of “regional importance,” including Crimea. It said that Afghanistan respected the referendum and Crimea’s decision to rejoin Russia. It made no mention of what, if anything, the Americans had said.

For their part, the members of Congress, talking to reporters after their meeting but before the palace released its statement, made no mention of Crimea having featured in their discussion with Karzai.

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