A Russian invasion of Ukraine could quickly turn into a catastrophic and bloody disaster like Afghanistan, a leading American senator has said just months after a hurried US withdrawal left Kabul in the hands of the Taliban.
"If Russia does decide to move further into Ukraine, it would be a mistake of historic proportions for Moscow," said Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in an appearance on CNN on Sunday. "Right now they occupy the eastern flank of the country. That's a part of the Ukraine that doesn't have the same sense of Ukrainian nationalism that the rest of the country does." Moscow denies it maintains forces in the war-torn Donbass region, which has been held by troops loyal to two self-declared breakaway republics, which Russia considers to be part of Ukraine.
"Ukraine could become the next Afghanistan for Russia if it chooses to move further," he said, referring to the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989 that left thousands of Red Army soldiers dead. "It's up to us in the Congress to make clear that we are going to be diplomatic, political, and military partners with Ukraine, that we are going to provide them with increased military assistance so that they can defend themselves. And I hope that we take steps in Congress in the next week to make that clear."
Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia's Security Council, argued earlier this year that there are similarities between the US's relationship with Ukraine and its backing of the government in Afghanistan that was overthrown by the Taliban this summer. He accused the United States of abandoning its allies in the Middle East, and said that Kiev could meet a similar fate in the future.
"Was the ousted pro-American regime in Kabul saved by the fact that Afghanistan had the status of a US ally, while not being part of NATO?" he asked. "A similar situation awaits supporters of the American choice in Ukraine. Where neo-Nazis are capable of coming to power, the country is heading for disintegration, and the White House at some point will not remember its Kiev supporters."
Tensions on the border between Russia and Ukraine have been worsening for weeks, with American and Ukrainian intelligence services reporting that they suspect a possible Russian invasion in the near future. Moscow has denied any plans to invade, dismissing the allegations as American misinformation and accused Ukraine of building up forces along the contact line with the Donbass.
Asked whether he thought the invasion was likely, senator Murphy responded, "I've been in Ukraine six times. I've seen the intelligence, the threat is serious. I do think that there's no substitute for person-to-person diplomacy. And so I hope this virtual meeting between President Biden and President Putin can bear fruit."
The Kremlin and the White House announced Saturday that Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, is scheduled to speak with Joe Biden, the American president, in a video call this Tuesday. The White House, in its statement, said that "President Biden will underscore U.S. concerns with Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine and reaffirm the United States' support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."
Last week, in an appearance at the "Russia Calling" forum, Putin made clear that he considers the deployment of American weapons in countries bordering Russia to be a "red line" that his country will not permit to be crossed. He has said that he will seek specific guarantees that NATO will not expand further eastwards as part of his talks with Biden.