In late December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to help the friendly communist Peoples Democratic Party regime rule on Afghan people, which was threatened by the anti-communist Islamist movement. After ten years of a long war, Soviet troops withdrew, as anti-communist Muslim militias were completely backed by the US, in 1989.
Following Soviet withdrawal, fall of the communist government, the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996. After 9/11, when the US asked the Taliban government to extradite Osama Bin Laden, they refused, and the US invaded Afghanistan, which was then supported by Russia as well.
Taliban officials have stated that Russia is playing a major role in the Afghan peace process behind the scenes, making Russia a key player in the country. US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad repeatedly met with the Russian officials to build consensus on the US end game. Moreover, in 2015, the Russian special envoy stated the Russo-Taliban interests objectively coincide.
Russia hosted a meeting with Afghan politicians and Taliban leaders in Moscow, which was the first official meeting between Taliban and Moscow officials. It discussed various issues faced by the Afghan people, human rights, and the post-war Russo-Afghan cooperation. The Afghan government was not present as it is regarded as the local people who are front men of the West in Afghanistan.
Russia had declared the Taliban a terrorist organization in 2003 and was supporting the US against Taliban militants to bring peace and security in-country as well as in the region; however, as time passed and the Great power interests collided in different areas, cooperation broke down, and the great game started as Russia switched sides from backing the US to Taliban.
The New York Times’ latest fake news provocation alleging that Russia’s military-intelligence agency GRU solicited the Taliban; officially designated as terrorists by Moscow to assassinate American soldiers in Afghanistan has brought a lot of attention to Moscow’s ties with the militant group.
The truth, however, is just as intriguing than the fake news about them. On the surface, it’s surprising enough that Russia has diplomatic contacts with the Taliban considering that the latter grew out of the 1980s Mujahiddin that defeated the USSR.
Russia wants the US to pull out its troops from the country, weaken its international position through supporting the Taliban with arms and weapons, make war costly and exhaust its mechanisms in Afghanistan so that Russia can exert its diplomatic muscles in the country. Russia wants Afghanistan’s government to be cooperative in post-US times. Russia’s endeavors seem to be achieving the goals which Russian policymakers have planned.
United States secret service officials have said that Russia is providing the money and bounties to the Taliban for targeting the US-led forces, which is brokered by local Afghan businessmen who resides in Kunduz, the northern part of Afghanistan.
The intelligence officials have reported several Taliban Commanders and local businessmen and politicians as well, travelling back and forth to Tajikistan, the Russian intelligence stronghold. Most of the Afghan politicians have their homes and contacts in Moscow.
Furthermore, Russia has Soviet-trained military generals in Afghanistan who host their missions and provide accommodation and also provide intelligence services. Russia wants to see a friendly government in Afghanistan, which would help advance its interests in the region.
After Russia invaded Crimea, the West supplied arms and logistical support to Ukraine to fight Russia, which was seen angrily by Putin stating these weapons might turn on the West on the other front. Moreover, more than 200 people in which most Russians have been killed by US-led forces in Syria, which Russia has denied steadily but seeking vengeance silently in Afghanistan. Russia sees NATO and the US in its backyard as not good for Russia’s national security since they are at odds on Ukrainian conflict and Middle eastern questions.
Afghanistan’s problem has become a quagmire for the US, which it could not come out easily since the interests of so many countries are at stake. Russia strengthening Taliban and other Afghan politicians’ meetings, holding talks, discussions on several Afghan issues is also, arguably, a sign that Russia is not so happy and cooperative with the Afghan government and have suspicions about it.
Russia wants Afghanistan, which in the long could not create a strategic problem for Russian national security and territorial security as it is also fearful of Islamist extremism. Russia seeking friendly relations with the Taliban is a sign of some agreement between the Taliban and Russia on extremist sentiments and segments of the group to be replaced with cooperation and coordination.
It is also a question of financial insecurity, which has been intensified because of the ongoing war between combatants. If the Intra-Afghan dialogue and US-Taliban dialogue becomes successful and the US pulls out of the game.
Russia would make Afghanistan as it’s another stronghold to seek regional security dominance and increase its regional influence if the deterioration in relations between Taliban and Russia would not happen. Stable Afghanistan is necessary for the stability of the region. Nevertheless, Russia’s new partnerships with all of the aforementioned prove that it’s willing to let bygones be bygones and won’t judge any of them based on the policies that they pursued at that time.
Instead, it wants to turn the page and move past their troubled histories in order to chart a new era of multi polar cooperation together. The Taliban is but the latest addition to Russia’s balancing network, but since it’s no longer a state actor, Moscow’s ties with the group are understandably limited to the Afghan peace process.