OCTOBER 12, 2018
Russia has been cultivating ties with the Taliban to increase its influence in Afghanistan three decades after Moscow’s humiliating defeat there helped hasten the Soviet Union’s collapse.
Russian engagement with the militants drew attention, and some flak, when the Kremlin invited Taliban representatives to Moscow for a meeting in September. That invitation was rescinded — at least temporarily — after the Afghan government objected, saying it must take the lead in any talks.
But the diplomatic kerfuffle laid bare the Kremlin’s effort to reassert itself in Afghanistan, an initiative that has included discreet contacts with Taliban leaders and a military buildup along the country’s northern edge.
Moscow has also sought to reclaim its role as regional power broker, convening secret discussions with the United States, Iran, Pakistan, India and China and seeking to ensure any finale to the conflict suits Russian interests.
It is part of a strategy, analysts said, to protect Russia’s southern flank from the Islamic State’s emergence in Central Asia and hedge against the possibility of an abrupt U.S. exit from Afghanistan after 17 years of war.
The Russian gambit is a relatively modest political investment that could yet yield outsize dividends as Moscow seeks to prove its global heft. “Supporting the Taliban in a small way is an insurance policy for the future,” said Artemy Kalinovsky, a scholar of Central Asian history at the University of Amsterdam.
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The Kremlin wants a role in Afghanistan 30 years after the Soviet withdrawal
Russia’s return comes as U.S. struggles to reverse a Taliban resurgence