The Kremlin must think the rest of the world has an incredibly short memory.
The past weekend the Soviets announced that they are suspending the withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan, with only half of them gone. The announcement culminates months of Russian protests against the continued arming of Afghan rebels by Pakistan and the United States.But the new announcement merely echoes a similar one the Soviets made about six weeks ago. The previous proclamation didn't prompt the rebels and their supporters to back down, and there's no reason for doing so now.
The Soviets pointedly ignore the fact that their puppet regime in Afghanistan has violated the withdrawal agreement just as much as anyone else, if not more so, with more than 300 incursions into Pakistan since mid-May.
Likewise, the Soviets seem oblivious to the fact that the agreement calling for their complete withdrawal by next Feb. 14 was accompanied by a separate U.S.-Russian accord giving the two superpowers the right to keep arming their allies in Afghanistan. Since the Soviets have kept shipping weapons to the puppet government, there's nothing illegal about the U.S. continuing to help the rebels.
The fact remains that the rebels have won and the Soviets have lost. If Russia couldn't triumph before, it's hard to see how they could win now with only half the troops they once had in Afghanistan.
Yes, the Kremlin could start sending troops back into Afghanistan. But it could not do so without paying a steep price in terms of a backlash not only internationally but also within Russia's own borders.
The past weekend's announcement of Russia's suspension of its retreat reminds the rebels that even if they oust the puppet regime, Afghanistan can never entirely escape the reach of Soviet power. But that power is so clearly limited that Russia still can serve its own interests best by sticking to the schedule for a complete withdrawal.