ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, May 21

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
This Thursday, ROAR offers a medical doctor’s opinion on Russia’s role in Afghanistan and a newspaper’s comparison of the incumbent Patriarch to Mikhail Gorbachev.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA publishes an article by Professor Ashot Sarkisian, President of the Russian Medical Association and President of the Russia-Afghanistan Friendship and Cooperation Society. Professor Sarkisian writes that Russian aid in medical services in Afghanistan can also help improve the health of Russo-Afghan relations.

The Professor says that the situation in Afghanistan and throughout the region has recently been causing concern both in the U.S. and in Russia. Due to U.S. foreign policy, he writes, the area between Baghdad, Kabul and Islamabad has become a sort of political and diplomatic Bermuda Triangle. For Russia and neighboring Central Asian nations, the threat to their security caused by the flow of illicit drugs originating in Afghanistan is growing by the day.

The past five years have been extremely difficult for Afghanistan, writes Sarkisian: the international coalition has failed to overcome the Taliban and the country is being torn apart by ethnic and clan conflicts. As a result, the situation in Afghanistan is now as far from being stable and peaceful as the international coalition is from its victory.

The author writes that his own professional life has been connected with Afghanistan since the mid-1980s and that he has visited Afghanistan many times in the past decade as well. He says that even though the chances of Russia’s returning to Afghanistan as an international aid donor are now slim, mainly due to the overwhelming American presence, the work that Russia is capable of doing for the restoration of the system of medical services, totally destroyed by war, can become a very important element of international aid, welcomed by both the government and the people of Afghanistan.

Our medical aid and cooperation, continues the writer, can become an important political alternative to the military actions of the NATO member states.

Sarkisian says that during his recent visits to Afghanistan he met with high officials of the government, both military and civilian, and reached several agreements on the restoration of the medical facilities built by the Soviet Union in the 1980s, such as the Orthopedic Center with branches in three provincial capitals, on the creation of a Afghan-Russian Medical Center, and on the conditions for the return of Afghan doctors and specialists who now live and work in Russia and other post-Soviet states.

The Professor says he is unhappy with the lack of interest towards his initiatives on the part of the Russian establishment because, apart from other implications, he sees the potential of considerably inexpensive medical aid for the future of Russo-Afghan relations, which have been stagnating for the past twenty years. He says the writing off of Afghanistan’s debt has become a good first step in the revitalization of bilateral relations, but cooperation in the medical field could bring relations to a new level and, simultaneously, raise Russia’s prestige in Afghanistan and throughout Central Asia.

In the same issue of NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA, an editorial says that the first steps taken by Cyril I, the new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, have shown that as a politician the Patriarch can be loosely compared with Mikhail Gorbachev. The editorial says Cyril ranks number 7 in the rating of Russian politicians, even without being, officially, a politician.

The paper added that the Patriarch’s reshuffling of the Church hierarchy brings to memory the April 1985 Plenum of the Central Committee, CPSU, when Gorbachev started building his reform team. Another similarity is that, as Gorbachev was the first Soviet leader to start talking directly with the people and addressing mass audiences, the Patriarch is going to start speaking in stadiums. To go further in the comparison, the Patriarch, like the Soviet President, looks with hope at the younger generation of Russians and wants to start a dialogue with them.

Like Gorbachev, continues the paper, the Patriarch has labeled drinking alcohol as an imminent threat to the nation’s gene pool and has initiated an all-Russia anti-alcohol campaign calling, among other things, for a state monopoly on the production and distribution of alcoholic drinks.

However, says the paper, an anti-alcohol campaign has proven to be a poor way of gaining support among the Russian population. In fact, it has downed many high-flying political careers in Russian history, so the immensely popular Patriarch has to be very careful about his steps in this direction. The editorial concludes: ‘It is unfair that promotion of a sober way of life causes more trouble than gain for the promoter, but in Russia that is a fact of life.’

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT.