April 29, 2022
President Vladimir Putin told Russia’s Security Council that while the situation in Ukraine is the country’s top national security issue, Moscow must also address possible threats emanating from Afghanistan and elsewhere in Central and South Asia.
Violence in Afghanistan has been on the rise highlighted by an Islamic State mosque bombing that killed over 50 earlier in the day. Meanwhile, anti-Taliban resistance groups, including former government officers, have been popping up all over the country and clashing with regime forces.
During a video conference on Friday, Putin said from a national security view Russia is obviously focused on events in Donbas. However, he also indicated that Russia’s national security is not only about the situation in Ukraine.
“We also have other issues that are of great interest from the point of view of national security, including in the southern sector,” Putin was quoted as saying in a readout issued by the Kremlin. “Today, therefore, we will discuss this issue in respect to the events in Afghanistan and generally in that region.”
Putin made the comments to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense chief Sergei Shoigu in addition to Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Intelligence head Sergei Naryshkin, among others who were on the call.
In February, right before Moscow launched its military operation next door, a U.S. defense intelligence contractor told Afghan Online Press that Russia is focusing too much attention and resources to counter Ukraine and NATO when the real threat is coming from Central and South Asia with terror groups making advances in the region.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, has repeatedly warned about the flow of jihadists throughout Central Asia – especially since the Taliban came to power.
Russian defense officials soon after the fall of Kabul in August said Moscow is concerned that the destabilization of the situation in Afghanistan increased the risk of exporting terrorism and drugs to the territory of the CSTO states.
Russian Permanent Representative to the CSTO Mikael Agasandyan told Sputnik that the organization must take preventive measures to counter possible threats.
Last week, the head of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO RATS), Ruslan Mirzaev, described the situation in Afghanistan as “stable tension.” SCO is a political, economic, and security alliance comprising India, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and China. Afghanistan is one of four observer states in the SCO.
Just days after the fall of Kabul, Russia and its partners conducted military drills in states neighboring Afghanistan. In October, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Third Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Department Director Alexander Sternik said the drills – between Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia – were critical to countering “radical forces” operating in the region amid the “alarming” situation in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Moscow has been pursuing a dual process with the government in Kabul. While Russia has sternly warned about instability pouring over Afghan borders, it has also boosted diplomatic relations.
For example, in early April, Moscow handed over the Afghanistan Embassy in Russia. In addition, earlier this week, Lavrov said Moscow would move towards full diplomatic recognition of the Taliban government if they form an “inclusive” government.
This is in line with comments Putin made at the end of last year during an annual press conference, underscoring Russian recognition of Taliban rule would be based on including representation of all ethnic groups in the leadership of Afghanistan. He then also noted that there were security concerns related to the possible penetration of extremists into Russian borders.
In February, Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told Sputnik that Moscow and the Taliban have a “good relationship” and the radical movement hopes the interaction “continues to grow.”
It is also worth noting that Russia hosted the Taliban for talks in Moscow in October in a bid to avert a humanitarian disaster after the militant group overran Kabul. The proceedings included officials from China, India, Iran and Pakistan also attended.
Another interesting factor is Moscow’s closer ties with Islamabad in recent years, a turnabout from the Cold War days. It remains to be seen, however, if Pakistan will have the same type of influence over the Afghan Taliban now that they are rulers again.
However, Moscow might be severely disappointed if they genuinely expect an inclusive government to arise in Kabul. And, Russia will be even more dismayed when the Taliban fail to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist breeding ground.
Russia certainly had mixed feelings about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. From one perspective no longer could Washington use Afghanistan as a “listening post” in Central Asia. And Russia must be relieved that no surrounding states have agreed to host American bases for over-the-horizon anti-terror operations.
On the other hand, some in Russia fear the Taliban may not live up to the counterterrorism assurances they provided in the Doha accord signed with the Americans in 2020.