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Afghan government forces in Jowzjan Province during 2021 Taliban offensive

FSU Analysts Assess the Impact of Events in Afghanistan on Russia and US-RF Relations

August 18, 2021
RM Staff

In 2001, then-Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov claims to have told the Taliban to "f--- off” in response to the group’s alleged offer to team up with Moscow against the United States. This bears contrasting with recent statements by Russian officials, such as Vladimir Putin’s special representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov and Russia’s ambassador in Kabul Dmitry Zhirnov. “If we compare them in terms of the ability to negotiate with colleagues and partners, the Taliban has long demonstrated a much better ability to negotiate than the puppet government,” TASS quoted Kabulov as saying. "They made a good impression on us, adequate men, well armed,” Russia’s ambassador in Kabul Dmitry Zhirnov said in reference to members of the Taliban, which at present is designated by the Russian government as a banned terrorist organization.

The perspectives of Russia’s non-government Middle East experts on the ascent of the Taliban and its impact on Russia appear to be more varied than those of Russian diplomats and their other official counterparts. We have compiled a selection of such views, along with views on the same expressed by Western FSU watchers.

Julia Davis, Russian media analyst and Daily Beast columnist: “Russia Is already cozying up to the Taliban as Kabul spirals. State TV expert: ‘America no longer matters.’ Russia should continue to ‘quietly strangle the United States... which is what Putin has already been doing.’” (Twitter, 08.16.21)

Arkady Dubnov, independent political analyst: “Moscow is enjoying the celebration that their bet on the Taliban paid off. … Zamir Kabulov can count on a medal of the highest order from the president, because his risky game of supporting the Taliban brought Russia to the point where Russia can show it doesn’t fear the Taliban, in contrast to the Western diplomats. ... It’s good PR for the Russians and for the Taliban,” Dubnov added. (CNN, 08.17.21

Alexey Fenenk, Moscow State University lecturer: [In response to the suggestion that the United States may not have intended to democratize Afghanistan] “Back around 2002-2003, George W. Bush spoke about his plans to build a democratic Afghanistan. He spoke about this at the Bonn Conference in 2001, when the United States rejected a Russian proposal on the restoration of the country’s monarchy. In the summer of 2004, he again spoke about his intention to democratize the Middle East more broadly, and cited Afghanistan as an example. Then in 2009, Barack Obama stated that Afghan democracy will become a stronghold of the United States.” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 8.17.2021)

Mark Galeotti, Mayak Intelligence director: “The Kremlin is waiting to see whether the Taliban will fare any better than any of the other powers who have thought they could reshape the country. Ironically, the Kremlin probably hopes they do.” (The Moscow Times, 08.16.21)

Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet leader who ended the U.S.S.R.'s decade-long war in Afghanistan in 1989, on Tuesday warned against repeating the mistakes of the U.S. invasion of the country. "From the very start (the U.S. invasion) was a bad idea, although Russia initially supported it," Gorbachev told the RIA Novosti news agency. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 08.17.21)

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, U.S. Naval War College professor: “A number of years ago, ... there was a push within Congress to formally designate Ukraine as a non-NATO ally of the United States. In theory, this would put Ukraine at the same level as countries like Israel (another state which lacks a formal treaty of alliance with the United States). However, watching events unfold in Afghanistan, Ukrainian policymakers might reconsider the value of such a declaration. After all, with much ballyhoo, in 2012 Afghanistan was so designated as a ‘major non-NATO ally’ of the United States, a step that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared represented ‘a powerful commitment to Afghanistan’s future’ through which ‘a number of benefits’ would accrue to Kabul.... Watching events in Kabul, a government in Kyiv, or Tbilisi, or Chisinau would wonder whether getting even the non-NATO status would bring much benefit.” (National Interest, 08.14.21)

Ivan U. Kłyszcz, University of Tartu, Estonia doctoral candidate: “For Russia, the Taliban takeover does not change its fundamental Afghanistan policy: to keep the instability of the civil war in Afghanistan away from Central Asia. If the Taliban indeed commits to restrain itself from threatening its northern neighbours, then Russia may continue to acquiesce to a longer Taliban rule over Afghanistan.” (Riddle, 08.16.21)

Michael Kofman, CNA Russian Studies director: “Russia is not going to invade Lithuania because of events in Afghanistan [and its] presumed impact on credibility. Adversaries will not become emboldened. If anything US gains ability to focus on them & may pay more attention to future challenges to reputation.” (Twitter, 08.15.21)

Andrei Kortunov, Russian International Affairs Council director: “The abrupt refusal of the American administration to provide military support to the Ghani government, and the decision not to launch airstrikes against the Taliban may be indicative of two things. One could point either to the existence of a secret deal between Washington and the Taliban, with Pakistan at their backs, or to the incapacity of President Biden’s team.” (Kommersant, 08.16.2021)

Kirill Krivosheyev, Kommersant journalist: “For Russia, the formation of an interim government featuring other participants of the Moscow meetings would be one of the best possible outcomes. It would enable Moscow not to directly recognize the authority of the Taliban, which it has officially designated a terrorist organization, without burning its bridges with the militant group. It would also show that Russia’s diplomatic efforts on the eve of the U.S. withdrawal were highly effective.” (Carnegie Moscow Center, 08.18.2021)

Anatol Lieven, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft senior fellow: “The central feature of the past several weeks in Afghanistan has not been fighting. It has been negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan forces, sometimes brokered by local elders. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported ‘a breathtaking series of negotiated surrenders by government forces’ that resulted from more than a year of deal-making between the Taliban and rural leaders. ... The Soviet-backed Afghan state survived for three years after the Soviet withdrawal, and in fact outlasted the USSR itself — a telling commentary on the comparative decrepitude of the “state” that the United States and its partners have attempted to create since 2001.” (Politco, 08.16.21)

Felix Light and Pjotr Sauer, The Moscow Times reporters: “Though Moscow had been preparing for an expected Taliban takeover, satisfaction at an American defeat is only one side of a complex reaction to the Taliban’s victory, as there is also some trepidation about what the militants’ success might mean for Russia and its allies in Central Asia … But for the moment, with Moscow’s relations with the Taliban remaining relatively warm, Russia is likely to take a pragmatic approach as the United States comes to terms with the collapse of its 20-year mission in Afghanistan.” (The Moscow Times, 08.16.21)

Fyodor Lukyanov, Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy chairman and Russia in Global Affairs chief editor: Lukyanov noted, the government left behind by the Soviets survived for three years after the withdrawal of Red Army forces. "We believe our failure was big, but it seems the Americans achieved an even bigger failure," he said. (The Washington Post, 08.14.21)

“You can’t blame Russia for feeling a little smug about what is happening in Kabul,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Russia in Global Affairs journal and an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin on foreign policy. “This is a PR disaster of enormous proportions for America. The desperate images from Kabul airport will go into the history books.” (The Moscow Times/AFP, 08.16.21)

Pavel Luzin, international relations scholar and Riddle columnist: “Even though Russia’s attempts to continue the dialogue with the Taliban is pretty logical, Russia has no conception about what it wants to see in Afghanistan after NATO’s departure, how it wants to interact with Afghanistan and what it wants at all,” Pavel Luzin, a Russia-based defence analyst with the Jamestown Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera. Russia is not planning to invade Afghanistan again, but it tends to exaggerate its threat to boost its presence in its own back yard, said Luzin.“The only thing Moscow pursues for sure is to be the dominant military power in Central Asia selling its ‘services’ as a defender of regional rulers from the mythical Afghan threat.” (Al Jazeera, 08.16.21) 

Aleksey Mukhin, Centre for Political Information director: Russia’s attitude towards the Taliban “hasn’t changed” Moscow-based analyst Aleksey Mukhin told Al Jazeera. “There is no objective to legalise the Taliban, but yes, there is an objective to talk to them to reach certain agreements, accords, limitations in Afghanistan and adjacent nations. The approach is purely pragmatic,” he said. (Al Jazeera, 08.16.21) 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta Editorial Board: “In its Afghan mission, NATO has failed completely. It seems quite likely that the Afghanistan incident fits logically into Biden’s new foreign policy plan and geopolitical strategy. The main adversary is China. In second place is Russia—even if it does sometimes lag in terms of being menacing. The United States doesn’t need Middle Eastern oil. As such, it has become less important who occupies the seats of power throughout the region…. [Under these conditions], the United States is leaving the Taliban be. The effortless attractiveness of orthodox doctrines with anticorruption pathos easily spawns armies of adherents and devotees on both sides of the border. In this situation, the United States is creating serious potential national security threats against both China and Russia. … China and Russia will need to spend big, like other CSTO and SCO countries.” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 8.17.2021)

Sergey Radchenko, Johns Hopkins University professor: “U.S. President Joe Biden finds himself in a situation not unlike that faced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s. At the basis of both decisions [to withdraw from Afghanistan] — Biden’s and Gorbachev’s — there is a realization that, as Gorbachev put it in his time, Afghanistan was a “bleeding wound.” For the Americans — like for the Soviets in their time — Afghanistan was a place where one wins every single battle and still loses the war. Between them, the Soviet Union and the United States have now spent 30 years nation-building in Afghanistan. Both efforts proved miserable failures.......Getting in was a mistake; getting out was the right thing to do. Because in the end Afghanistan was never Moscow’s, or Washington’s, to win or lose. (The Moscow Times, 08.16.21)

Matthew Rojansky, Kennan Institute director: “While Russia may be open to limited forms of cooperation with major powers such as China, India, and even the United States on Afghanistan and regional security, it has also invested directly in cultivating relationships with senior Taliban leaders. Consequently, Russia now has some ability to exert direct leverage within Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.” (Wilson Center, 08.16.21)

Andrei Serenko, Moscow Center for the Study of Contemporary Afghanistan analyst: “This rapid reformatting of the authorities in Afghanistan not only breaks down the institutions of the republican system that had been taking shape in the country over the past two decades in accordance with the western model; it also nullifies plans for the creation of an inclusive coalition government, rendering impossible the primary task that had been proclaimed by diplomats in recent months. It is not yet clear what Russia can get from the United States’ Afghanistan situation, the Taliban and Pakistan. A new administration has only just started to take form, and it’s difficult to say how friendly it will be to the Kremlin, and how much influence they will have over the future configuration of Afghan power.” (Kommersant, 08.16.21)

Velina Tchakarova, AIES Austria director: “Russia will not rush to recognize or reject the new authorities of Afghanistan, it depends on the Taliban’s behavior. The Taliban have already secured the outer perimeter of the Russian Embassy in Kabul - Russian Foreign Ministry.” (Twitter, 08.16.21)

“Current China-Russia and China-Pakistan close ties have created a significant geopolitical imbalance in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia, which is detrimental to India’s interests. Afghanistan may become part of China's CPEC instead of India's INSTC with Iran's Chabahar port.” (Twitter, 08.16.21)

Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center director: “[Russia] isn’t evacuating embassy from Kabul. It keeps contacts w/Taliban &watches developments. Meanwhile, [Russian] forces exercise w/Uzbeks and Tajiks in the neighborhood. For Moscow, main issue is not who’s in power in Kabul, but whether radicals cross into [Central Asia]. For now, looks unlikely.” (Twitter, 08.15.21)

Temur Umarov, Carrnegie Russia research consultant: “Russia will be eager to take advantage of the unstable security situation in the region by shoring up its influence in Central Asia.” (Twitter, 08.16.21)

Vladimir Vasiliev, Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies chief scientist: “It is evident that the Biden administration has not developed a coherent foreign policy plan—not only in the concrete case of Afghanistan, but in general. It is difficult to say how this all will turn out Maybe it will lead to a reshuffling of the White House’s entire foreign policy apparatus.” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 8.17.21)



Photo shared by Berrely via the public domain. All opinions are solely those of the individuals quoted.