Russia is entering a security vacuum created by the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, and President Vladimir Putin seeks to regain influence in Central Asia and prevent Islamic extremism from spreading to the border.
Moscow moved its tanks to the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border for military exercises last week to protect its allies from the possible downfall of the Kabul government as the revived Taliban continues to advance and the United States prepares to end an unsuccessful 20-year military mission . Bring peace to this troubled country.
Although similar to the stigma of the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, Russia still cheered the U.S. withdrawal. It was one of the first countries to openly contact the Taliban. It hosted a 2018 delegation to promote peace efforts, which was the beginning of a series of meetings, even though it considered the Taliban to be a banned terrorist organization.
“Putin’s approach is to embarrass the United States,” said Asfan Diamir, a researcher at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. “Russia does not want the U.S.-backed regime in its backyard.”
On the contrary, Putin believes in a new relationship with the Taliban, and he hopes to contain threats from ISIS and al-Qaeda.
His special representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, recently described the Taliban’s advance as a security promotion for Russia because it will eliminate the more dangerous jihadist groups.
“The Taliban are controlling this fact… There is a positive side. Why? Because most of these [extremist] The group is not concerned with domestic affairs, but with Central Asia, Pakistan or Iran,” he said last week.
When asked in another radio interview last week whether the U.S. withdrawal would benefit Russia, he replied: “In general, yes.”
But Russian political scientist and Central Asian expert Arkady Dubnov said that this strategy is risky.
“Moscow’s position, betting publicly on one force and trying to limit the influence of another force, seems dangerous to me. It seems embarrassing and trying to resolve old accounts,” he said.
The Soviet Union’s ten-year conflict in Afghanistan left severe trauma to Moscow, when the predecessors of the Taliban’s Mujahideen forced its demoralized troops to withdraw.
“Russia wants to play an important role [in Afghanistan] But it is not directly related to the war in the 1980s,” another regional expert said.
For Putin, the opportunities created by the U.S. withdrawal surpass Afghanistan, as Moscow seeks to reclaim the power it had in the Soviet era and re-establish itself as the security guarantor for most of Eurasia.
“This has nothing to do with Russia’s assistance in peaceful supervision of Afghanistan. Dubnov said that this is a measure to ensure the security of Central Asian countries. Given the situation in Afghanistan, when Central Asian countries face potential hypothetical threats, most of them are Russian partners or allies. .
He continued: “It’s all about image[and]… Convince our partners in Central Asia that only Russia has the ability to ensure their safety. ”
Dubnov added that the ultimate goal is to prevent the United States and any other Western forces from returning to the region. “Everything else that Russia is doing is smokescreen.”
As part of this, Russia has repeatedly called for negotiations under its control, including the Eurasian Economic Union, which also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military organization involving these countries and Tajikistan. group.
However, Moscow also faces risks. Dmitry Trenin, head of the think tank of the Carnegie Center in Moscow, said: “The deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan will be a severe test for the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The Collective Security Treaty Organization must prove that it can ensure the security of the region.”
“Neither Russia nor the Central Asian countries have the resources, reason or desire to forcefully intervene in the Afghan issue. This would be completely stupid,” he added.
Most international experts believe privately that after the United States leaves, the Taliban may retake Afghanistan in whole or in part.
“I assure you that the Taliban will be in power in Kabul by September,” a Russian diplomatic source who asked not to be named told the Financial Times. “But they don’t know how to rule-their way of doing things is trapped in the 13th century, so it will be a mess.”
The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan was between 1996 and 2001. It imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law, resulting in appalling human rights violations and special suppression of women.It provides a safe haven for terrorists, including Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda The network that planned the 9/11 attacks led to an invasion by the US-led army for two decades.
Dubnov suggested that this time Russia could provide “suggestion” to the Taliban on how to rule the Taliban, although it is unclear whether this is effective. “These people are difficult to teach with advice, they prefer money, and Russia is not ready to use money to help,” he said.
Russia is also dealing with Pakistan, which is a regional participant and its special services are closely linked to the Taliban.
Pakistan possesses “nuclear weapons and close cooperation [arrangements] Cooperating with China, therefore deserves more attention from Moscow,” Trenin said. But he added that Moscow must walk a tightrope so as not to anger its rival India.
Haspant, director of the New Delhi Observer Research Foundation think tank, said that although the United States is about to withdraw its troops, the United States will not be completely powerless in the fate of Afghanistan.
“Every country in this Afghanistan game [is] Waiting for what the U.S. will do next,” he said, adding: “The U.S. still holds a lot of cards. “