While many countries are scrambling to empty their embassies and remove their staff from Afghanistan, Russia is staying put. It has long prepared for the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul.
Despite the hardline Islamist group tracing its origins back to the war against the Soviets in the 1980s, Russia’s view on the group now is pragmatic.
Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov has praised the Taliban’s conduct. Describing their approach as “good, positive and business-like”. Added that the hardline Islamist group had made Kabul safer in the first 24 hours than it had been under the previous authorities.
“The situation is peaceful and good and everything has calmed down in the city. The situation in Kabul now under the Taliban is better than it was under (President) Ashraf Ghani” Zhirnov said.
Analysts say the Kremlin wants to protect its interests in Central Asia. As it has several military bases and is keen to avoid instability and potential terrorism spreading through a region on its doorstep.
A Russian foreign ministry statement Monday said the situation in Kabul “is stabilizing”. Further claimed that the Taliban had started to “restore public order”
And Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov said the Taliban — who he was due to meet Tuesday — was already guarding his embassy. Moreover, had given Moscow guarantees that the building would be safe.
The terrorists had assured the Russians that “not a single hair will fall from the heads” of their diplomats.
This is a stark contrast to the last time hardliners came to power in Afghanistan in 1992. Then Moscow struggled to evacuate its embassy under fire after a disastrous decade-long war. Three decades later, the Kremlin has boosted the Taliban’s international credibility by hosting it several times for talks in Moscow. Despite the movement being a banned terrorist organization in Russia.
YEARS OF COURTING:
Russia’s dialogue with the Taliban is the fruit of several years of courting. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in July described the Taliban as a “powerful force”. Also blamed the Afghan government for faltering progress in talks.
“It is not for nothing that we have been establishing contacts with the Taliban movement for the last seven years,” the Kremlin’s Afghanistan envoy, Zamir Kabulov, told on Monday.
This relationship has raised many eyebrows, given that the Taliban has its roots in the anti-Soviet Mujahedeen movement from the 1980s.
However, Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Center said Russia now believed the Taliban have changed since the last time it was in power in the 1990s when it gave shelter to Al-Qaeda. “Moscow does not see this version of the Mujahedeen as its enemy” he told.
Russia’s foreign ministry has suggested it will not rush into a close relationship with a Taliban government, saying it would monitor the group’s conduct before deciding on recognition.
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