Russia and the Taliban: a new partnership in the making?

How Moscow became the first to meet with the new rulers of Afghanistan

  • Russia was one of the few countries that did not evacuate its embassy in Kabul when the Taliban took over the city on 15 August 2021.
  • Russian Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov was the first foreign diplomat to publicly meet with the Taliban, while the Russian embassy criticized the former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for fleeing the country with cars full of cash.
  • Russia had already established close contacts with the Taliban through the ‘Moscow format’ talks, which involved representatives of the former Afghan government and the radical Islamist group.
  • Russia’s relations with the Taliban are driven by its anti-Western narrative, which resonates with the Taliban’s portrayal of Afghanistan as a liberated nation after a 20-year-long US occupation.

Why Russia’s economic influence in Afghanistan is limited and doesn’t compare with that of major regional players

  • Russia’s trade volume with Afghanistan is only $289 million, far behind Iran ($1.4 billion), China ($1.2 billion) and Pakistan ($1.2 billion).
  • Russia has no significant education or humanitarian aid programmes in Afghanistan, unlike Turkey, which supports a network of schools.
  • Russia’s plans to supply fuel and wheat to Afghanistan, as well as to participate in the construction of a thermal power station and a gas pipeline, are still uncertain and depend on the security and stability of the country.
  • Russia’s local presence in Afghanistan is a shadow of its former Soviet influence, which was based on the development of 130 industry and infrastructure projects between the 1950s and 1980s.

russia taliban meeting

How Russia’s ties with the Taliban are part of its broader strategy to counter the West and assert its role in the region

  • Russia is keen to cooperate with anyone openly pursuing anti-Western policies, such as Iran, North Korea or the Taliban, regardless of how extensive any economic cooperation proves to be.
  • Russia’s accreditation of a Taliban diplomat and its hosting of an Afghanistan conference involving various countries are ways to demonstrate that it is not isolated and that it can attract foreign partners.
  • Russia’s engagement with the Taliban is also a response to its deteriorating relations with the US, which worsened after Russia launched its large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
  • Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan is also a way to protect its interests and security in the neighbouring Central Asian states, which are vulnerable to the spillover of terrorism, drug trafficking and refugees from Afghanistan.
By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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