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 is heavily dependent 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Karzai, said that 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 Mr. Karzai’s pique with his American and European allies.
The announcement, tellingly, came in the final two paragraphs of a statement about Mr. Karzai’s meeting on Saturday with three visiting American members of Congress.
The statement covered expected ground, saying Mr. Karzai discussed a stalled security deal with the United States and other matters with Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire; Senator Joe Donnelly, Democrat of Indiana; and Representative Stephen Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts.
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 featuring in their discussion with Mr. Karzai.