Afghan crisis: Russia plans for new era with Taliban rule

When US and European governments raced to get their citizens and Afghan colleagues out of Kabul this week, Russia was one of very few countries not visibly alarmed by the Taliban takeover.

Russian diplomats described the new men in town as “normal guys” and argued that the capital was safer now than before. President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that the Taliban’s takeover was a reality they had to work with.

It is all a far cry from the disastrous nine-year war in Afghanistan that many Russians remember from propping up Kabul’s communist government in the 1980s.

Warm words for Taliban

Unlike most foreign embassies in the capital, Russia says its diplomatic mission remains open and it’s had warm words for the new rulers. Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov met a Taliban representative within 48 hours of the takeover and said he had seen no evidence of reprisals or violence.

Moscow’s UN representative Vassily Nebenzia spoke of a bright future of national reconciliation, with law and order returning to the streets and of “the ending of many years of bloodshed”.

May 2019: Representatives of Taliban chat with Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov (R)

President Putin’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, even said the Taliban were easier to negotiate with than the old “puppet government” of exiled President Ashraf Ghani.

Moscow has had little time for Mr Ghani: its diplomats claimed this week he had fled with four cars and a helicopter full of cash – accusations he dismissed as lies.

Charting Russia’s improving ties

Russia is not racing to recognise the Taliban as Afghanistan’s rulers, but there has been an apparent softening of rhetoric. State news agency Tass this week replaced the term “terrorist” with “radical” in its reports on the Taliban.

Moscow has been building contacts with the Taliban for some time. Even though the Taliban have been on Russia’s list of terrorist and banned organizations since 2003, the group’s representatives have been coming to Moscow for talks since 2018.

Taliban fighters mobilise to control a crowd in Kabul on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021.


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