Russia’s Equation for Afghanistan Without Central Asia: The Five Format Proposal

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In addition to being focused on the Ukraine War, Russia does not remain indifferent to regional developments and also makes various initiatives in the Asian geography. Especially within the scope of Afghanistan policy, Moscow has been taking an active stance recently. Undoubtedly, the instability of security and stability that emerged after the withdrawal of the United States of America (USA) from the region also affects Moscow. In this sense, Russia, which continues its dialogue with the Taliban, draws attention with the meetings it hosts.

The last move from the Moscow flank; it is a proposal to create a “Five Format” for the Afghan Question. On February 12, 2023, Russia’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Director of the Second Asian Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Zamir Kabulov, the situation in Afghanistan; he proposed the creation of a “Five Format” to solve it with the participation of Russia, China, Iran, India and Pakistan.[1] On February 14, 2023, it was reported that India warmly welcomed the proposal in question. Denis Alipov, the Russian Ambassador to New Delhi, made a statement that India wishes to cooperate closely with Russia in the solution of the Afghan Problem.[2]

Kabulov’s proposal brought to mind the formation of the Moscow Format, which included Russia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to support the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan in 2017. While such a platform already exists; Moscow’s proposal for a new “Five Format” reveals that Central Asian countries are wanted to be excluded.

Russia’s diplomatic initiatives and the formats it creates contain clues about its relations with the regional states as well as its Afghanistan policy. Afghanistan also took part in the Moscow Format, where the first negotiations were held in 2017. Afghanistan was not invited to the meeting on 16 November 2022.

When the absence of the Taliban administration at the meeting is evaluated within the framework of regional developments, it can be said that Moscow played a shaping role in the relations between the Central Asian countries and the Taliban. Thus, it can be expressed that in addition to providing a balance between them, it also aims to be a determinant on the policies of the Taliban. At the same time, the Taliban-West/USA connection can be considered as a factor affecting Russia’s attitude. All these factors are decisive in the final decision on whether the Taliban should attend the meetings or not.

On the other hand, the Moscow Format, as it includes actors from the Asian geography, also gives the appearance of a quest that aims to shape the future of Afghanistan under the leadership of Russia and acts against the West. Considering the recent mobility of Central Asian countries in the international arena, the reasons why these countries are not included in the Five Format can be understood. Recently, reform processes have come to the fore in the countries of the region.

At the same time Russia-Ukraine War, Europe’s interest in the region intensified and Central Asia-West relations, especially energy, seem to have gained a new momentum. For this reason, Russia may have proposed the formation of an Asian countries that does not include Central Asian countries.

With this new format proposed by Moscow, it is expected that the tense relationship dynamic on the India-Pakistan line will not affect the partnership on Afghanistan. The two neighboring states are in competition in the Afghanistan equation, as in many other areas. Moscow’s relations with both actors tend to expand and deepen. In the current situation, there are also signs of New Delhi’s positive approach to the Five Format. Russia, on the other hand, is in an effort to bring the two rival countries together in the context of security and defense policies. Therefore, the Moscow administration is making statements that extremist groups pose great threat to the stability of the region.[3]

While Russia underlined the necessity of the Five Format with these explanations; it can also be said that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) gives the message of what an important role it plays. At this point, the influence and attacks of the so-called Emirate of Khorasan (ISKP) of the terrorist organization Devlet al-Iraq and al-Sham (DEAS) have increased in the region. There are UN reports that certain countries were targeted by the terrorist organization and that preparations for an attack were made.

Russia, on the other hand, blames the USA for the increase in the effectiveness of DEAS. It is stated that the Five Format will also be beneficial in dealing with the Afghan Problem comprehensively, especially in terms of security and defense. Thus, the Kremlin may have wanted to send a strong message to the Central Asian countries about the effectiveness of the CSTO and its credibility.

Russia’s goal of bringing India, Pakistan, Iran and China together serves the purpose of limiting the USA’s region policies. Thus, it can be said that the Washington administration is trying to establish a regional togetherness that will reduce its influence in the region.

India, Pakistan and China have a decisive role as countries that tend to develop their relations and establish dialogue with the Taliban. Moscow is also trying to make this situation suitable for its own interests with a cooperation platform. It can be said that Kabulov’s visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan in January 2023 had the same purpose and were in the nature of test the water.

As it is known, Iran and Pakistan have been taking important steps towards developing bilateral relations recently. On the other hand, Beijing has close relations with both Islamabad and Moscow. India and Pakistan are in the same environment within the scope of Shanghai Cooperation Organization. However, although it is thought that India’s stance will be positive, Pakistan attended the National Security Advisors Meeting held in Moscow on February 8, 2023. Therefore, it can be said that it has revealed its stance on this issue. As a result, it is a matter of curiosity how the order that Moscow is trying to create will respond. Also it can be predicted that the reaction of the USA will be one of the determining factors.

[1] “Moscow Seeks to form Regional Group of Nations to Influence Kabul”, Tolo News,, (Date of Accession: 15.02.2023).

[2] “India Seeks Close Interaction with Russia on Afghanistan-Russian Ambassador”, TASS,, (Date of Accession: 15.02.2023).

[3] “Taliban Refute Russia’s Terror Charges Against Afghanistan”, Voice of America,, (Date of Accession: 15.02.2023).

Şeyma KIZILAY, 2016 yılında Erciyes Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2019 yılında Kırşehir Ahi Evran Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası İlişkilerde Ulus İnşası Bağlamında Irak Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora eğitimine Uludağ Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda devam eden Kızılay, tez aşamasındadır. Başlıca çalışma alanları; güvenlik, terörizm, Afganistan ve Pakistan’dır. Kızılay, iyi derecede İngilizce ve orta seviyede Arapça bilmektedir.