Russian Federation and the Taliban: What the Kremlin is seeking in Afghanistan

Sat, 04.07.2020 12:31

Information on Russia's participation in the coordination of the Taliban in Afghanistan aimed at the destruction of coalition forces under the leadership of the United States is confirmed by some facts of interaction and cooperation between the Taliban and Russian leaders. Meanwhile, work with the Taliban is undoubtedly conducted both from the point of view of politics and the armed forces, including not only the supply of weapons, but also military assistance and, most likely, the tactical level of planning operations. Such cooperation has been active for at least 3.5-4 years, the analytical site IGDTS writes in its article. According to The New York Times, U.S. intelligence officials concluded that the Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered rewards to Taliban-related militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan, including US troops. In March 2020, the United States concluded that the Russian unit 29155, which was associated with assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe aimed at destabilizing the West or taking revenge on defectors, secretly offered rewards for successful attacks in 2019. Representatives of the intelligence community argue that Islamic militants or armed criminal elements closely associated with them are believed to have received good pay for these actions.

It is alleged that intelligence assessment is based in part on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals. Officials did not describe the mechanism of the Russian operation, for example, how goals were chosen or how money passed from hand to hand. In November 2019, IGTDS emphasized the close ties between the Taliban and Russia and the Kremlin’s sale of weapons to the Taliban. According to analysts, the Taliban’s funding to harm the coalition forces could begin between the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. It is highly likely that the Kremlin seeks to increase US losses in Afghanistan, thereby putting Washington in a position similar to the USSR in the 80s. Consequently, the increase in losses in the US troops, as Russia suggests, should cause a wave of discontent in America and provoke a complete withdrawal of troops from the country. Moreover, Moscow believes that such a scenario would prevent the United States from participating in other foreign military operations, and would further reduce the number of US military groups abroad. Although it is not clear whether Russian operatives worked in Afghanistan or met with their Taliban counterparts elsewhere, according to reports, data analysis shows that Russian tactical groups were spotted in Taliban-controlled territories, at least in 2017. In May 2017, police chief of the northern Baghlan province, General Ikramuddin Saray, told the Afghan newspaper Pajhwok that Russian and other foreign military advisers had arrived to support the Taliban in severe clashes. Of course, this Russian group is a military assistance unit of the Russian special forces, and its task could be not only to assist in the development of operations against coalition forces and the Afghan government, but also to study the characteristics of US military operations in Afghanistan. It is possible that the Taliban sought to refrain from attacking US troops in Afghanistan at present, beginning in February 2020, despite negotiations and agreements at some point.

The Taliban did not attack US positions after the February agreement. However, this does not mean that such attacks, encouraged by Russia, were not launched until February. Operations involving units 29155, as a rule, are much more violent than operations involving cyber units. Russia seeks to gain a foothold in Afghanistan by betting on the Taliban as the country's political foundation. Such a choice allows the Kremlin to become an ally, and relations with this ally are based on common values ​​and do not affect the issues of democracy, freedoms and the rule of law. Thus, the Kremlin could speak the same language with the Taliban using pragmatic categories of mutual services. The Russians are stepping up political, economic, and propaganda efforts to improve their image and regain their influence in the face of widespread corruption that impedes progress in Afghanistan. In 2017, Senator John McCain stated that Russia supports the Taliban to undermine US efforts in Afghanistan. Russia is ready to offer the Taliban assistance in ascending to power in Afghanistan, demanding to strengthen Moscow’s geopolitical hand in the region and, in response, fight US regional influence. The alliance with the Taliban allows Russia to get local armed forces that can be used to advance the political agenda with the goal of exerting pressure on the countries of the region. By adhering to the Taliban, Russia will be able to control the post-Soviet countries of Central Asia, increasing fear of the Taliban invasion. This paves the way for increasing Russian military exports to these countries, as well as for the rapid deployment of military groups there, including in order to weaken political leadership in these countries.

Russia uses the tactics of bringing to power in Afghanistan the leaders of illegal (terrorist, separatist) armed groups, as is the case with other intelligence objects. This allows the Kremlin to keep them from drawing closer and establishing relations with the West (due to a categorical discrepancy in values ​​and risks for those who interact with them), and also supports the Kremlin’s influence and the full dependence of such authorities on Moscow. The return of the Taliban-backed Russia to Afghanistan is in line with the Moscow confrontational model of the Cold War era, which Vladimir Putin returned again. Foreign policy, which Putin understands, boils down to the need to have an external enemy to consolidate Russian society around the government, as well as to take responsibility for Russia's failures in domestic socio-economic policy. Thus, the Kremlin’s return to Afghanistan is symbolic, since Russia extremely regrets that it was defeated in this country in 1979-1989, and blames the United States for this. The Kremlin believes that strengthening Russia's position in Afghanistan and ousting the United States from there is revenge, and the Russian government defeated Washington, demonstrating greater efficiency than the Soviet one. The growing US losses in Afghanistan is a kind of Kremlin revenge for the victims of the Soviets in the Afghan war, which Moscow accuses Washington, despite the Russian invasion of Kabul in 1979. Russia's policy under Putin emphasizes intentional attempts to eliminate the problem that triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union. This explains the statements of the Russian president about the task of reviving the Soviet Union and returning Russian lands. 

Russia is unlikely to seek revenge on NATO forces for the 2018 battle in Syria, in which the U.S. military destroyed several hundred pro-Syrian forces, including numerous Russian mercenaries, as they advanced to the American outpost. Firstly, the Kremlin interacted with the Taliban until 2018, and secondly, those killed in Syria were not military personnel, but mercenaries of the Wagner group, Moscow did not perceive their loss as a challenge. An alliance with the Taliban allows the Kremlin a vector of influence in the region. For example, to get more information about Pakistan, which has been trying to oust the Taliban from North and South Waziristan for more than 10 years. Similarly, Moscow is receiving an additional argument in relations with Iran, which is concerned about the separatist ideas of the Baloch people on creating their own state on the border with Afghanistan. Influence on Pakistan and Iran opens up opportunities for indirect influence on India and China.

 In 2019, Zamir Kabulov, a former KGB courier who had been in the center of Afghanistan since the 1980s and now a special envoy in Afghanistan, wanted to know if Washington would agree to secret negotiations on the future of the country with Russia, Iran and a number of other countries. The participation of the Russian intelligence unit 29155 in working with the Taliban in Afghanistan is also confirmed by the fact that a meeting with the Taliban in February 2019 was held at the President Hotel on Bolshaya Yakimanka, Moscow. This object, which is part of the property of the Presidential Administration, attracted the attention of IGTDS analysts to study the activities of the Russian anti-globalist movement, which is responsible for working with a large network of Internet trolls and separatist movements around the world. 

An analysis published in December 2019 shows that the leaders of the Russian anti-globalist movement are linked by military units 74455 and 29155, which are related to Russian military intelligence. Consequently, the data of the US intelligence community regarding the participation of Russian military intelligence in contacts with the Taliban and agreements on military operations against coalition forces in Afghanistan are indirectly confirmed. These facts and assessments provide additional arguments for adopting a law recognizing Russia as the state sponsor of terrorism. The Republican Research Committee, composed of 147 legislators from the Republican Party, presented the paper "Strengthening America and Countering Global Threats," which proposes to expand sanctions against Moscow and designate Russia as the state sponsor of terrorism. This will increase pressure on Moscow and reduce support for terrorist organizations around the world. 

Source: IGDTS


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