On October 20, 2021, the third Moscow Talks were held, hosted by Russia, focusing on Afghanistan-based developments. The meeting was attended by representatives of 10 countries and a high-level Taliban delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Abdulselam Hanefi of the Government founded by the Taliban. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was also participated in the talks.
The meetings, known as the “Moscow Format” and which are consultation meetings on the future of Afghanistan, were launched in April 2017. This format includes Russia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The United States (USA) has only attended one of the meetings, although it has been invited to the meetings.
The main agenda items of the summit were the military-political situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power, the establishment of a more inclusive Afghan Government, whether the Taliban were recognized and the humanitarian and economic situation in that country.
The issues discussed at the meeting were also highlighted in a joint statement issued after the talks. There are two objections behind the Taliban’s participation in the Moscow meeting. The first is to provide economic assistance to Afghanistan. The second is that it is recognized as a legitimate government by the countries participating in the meeting.
In addition to joint meetings, the Taliban delegation in Moscow also held bilateral meetings with Russian officials. The Taliban wants that the Russia to pay special attention to developments in Afghanistan and to have a closer relationship with them. The movement also wants Russia to play a constructive role in achieving normalization between the Taliban and other countries.
Indeed, after discussions between Russian officials and Taliban delegations, the Taliban representative stated that relations with Russia are good and that they are addressing economic relations. Moreover, the Taliban representative said that their goal is to take advantage of Afghanistan’s geographical location to turn the country into an economic center of attraction, which will lead to economic integration by increasing trade relations with countries in the region.
The Taliban are trying to obtain political gains by offering investment opportunities to the actors in Afghanistan in their meetings with both Russia and other states participating in the meeting. Another reason why the Taliban focuses on economic relations is the cessation of aid to Afghanistan after coalition forces, especially the United States, withdrew from the country. Because without foreign aid, the deterioration of the Afghan economy is inevitable. That situation worries the Taliban because, in Afghanistan, which lacks financial resources, the Taliban will encounter serious challenges in managing the country and sharing shrinking resources.
In the case of the situation, the Afghan people’s reaction will increase, and the Taliban will have to resort to more repressive methods to contain the unrest. Increased pressure on the Afghan people could call into question the Taliban’s legitimacy in Afghanistan. This could negatively affect the international community’s approach to the Taliban. Therefore, the most important agenda of the Taliban is to ensure the start and continuity of foreign aid in order to overcome the economic problems in the country.
During the meetings in Moscow, the Taliban’s expectation of recognition was inconclusive. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, neither Russia nor the participating countries recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Although the Taliban are not officially recognized, the participating countries will adapt to the actual situation and maintain their relations with the movement that dominates Afghanistan.
According to Russia, the recognition of the Taliban will happen sooner or later. But to do so, the Taliban must meet the demands of the international community, such as respect for human rights and the establishment of an inclusive government. As you will recall, at the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Presidents Summit on October 15, 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the Taliban, considered a terrorist organization in their country, do not represent the entire Afghan community. So, Putin said that there should be no rush to officially recognize it. In addition, the Russian leader stated that Kazakhstan agrees with them on this issue.
Although Central Asian countries other than Tajikistan have said that dialogue with the Taliban should be held, it is understood that they will not rush to recognize the organization. On the other sand, the Taliban, said that after they seized power, as before they came to power, their northern neighbors would be able to recognize them. In other words, it has announced that it will not interfere in the internal affairs of Central Asian countries, recognizes the borders of those states and guarantees security. Nevertheless, Russia and central Asian countries began conducting military exercises on Afghanistan’s borders within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and went on to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border. Moscow has increased arms shipments to Tajikistan, shifted some of its warplanes from its air base in Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan and further strengthened its military base in the country in question.
In summary, Russia and its allies in the region remain distrustless of the Taliban. In other words, if the Taliban have the power, they fully desire in Afghanistan, it is thought that it can also interfere in developments outside the country and create instability.
Among Central Asian countries, Tajikistan is the actor most concerned about the Taliban, but just like the Dushanbe administration, Moscow considers that control of Afghanistan should not be entirely given to the Taliban. Indeed, one of Russia’s most important expectations for the Taliban is the establishment of an inclusive government that includes all ethnic and sectarian groups, not limited to Pashtuns. Moscow thinks this will stabilize the Taliban and give it the opportunity to engage with alternative actors in the country. According to Russia and central Asian countries, the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan will be a guarantee of regional peace and stability. Afghanistan’s economic development depends on it.
One of Moscow’s concerns about the situation in Afghanistan is the presence of the terrorist group State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the country. At the same time, the threat of ISIS is discomforting other regional states. For this reason, Russia and countries in the region are concerned that Afghanistan will become a base for terrorist organizations to use against them and want it not to be allowed. In short, the continued positive dialogue of the Taliban with Russia and countries in the region depends on its determination in the fight against ISIS.
As a result, the talks in Moscow did not produce a result that met the Taliban’s expectations. Because the Taliban have been asked to fulfill some responsibilities in order to provide political and economic support to Afghanistan. It was also emphasized that economic aid to Afghanistan should be provided by the United States and its allies, which have been in the country through 20 years. In short, the meetings have shown that the Taliban will not receive the necessary support without moving towards “normalization” in domestic and foreign policy. In other words, no concrete progress has been made on Afghanistan at the meeting. However, it has been observed that it is Russia and Central Asian countries that act collectively.
 “Талибы заявили, что обсудили развитие экономических связей с Москвой”, Ria Novosti, https://ria.ru/20211020/svyazi-1755465221.html, (Date Accession : 21.10.2021).
 “Талибы заявили, что обсудили развитие экономических связей с Москвой”, Ria Novosti, https://ria.ru/20211020/svyazi-1755465221.html, ( Date Accession : 21.10.2021).
 “Совместное заявление участников Московского формата консультаций по Афганистану, Москва, 20 октября 2021 года”, Mid Ru, https://www.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4913908, ( Date Accession: 21.10.2021).
 “Участники ‘московского формата’ обсудили признание талибов, сообщил МИД”, Ria Novosti, https://ria.ru/20211020/vopros-1755392985.html, (Date Accession : 21.10.2021).
 “Путин призвал не торопиться с официальным признанием талибов”, Vedomosti, https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2021/10/15/891419-ofitsialnim-priznaniem-talibov, (Date Accession : 21.10.2021).