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The Changing Perception of Taliban in Russia’s Afghanistan Policy

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The fourth meeting of the Moscow Format, hosted by Russia, was held on November 16, 2022, as part of the quest for a solution to the Afghanistan Problem. In addition to Russia, representatives from China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan attended the meeting.[1] Based on the nations present at the meeting, it may be concluded that the region’s governments are attempting to develop a common stance toward Afghanistan. In other words, states want to act in unison when it comes to recognizing or not recognizing the Taliban.

However, the fact that the Taliban was not invited to the meeting in Moscow is an interesting development. Because the Taliban was represented at the summit held on October 20, 2021. Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that the Taliban might be removed from Russia’s list of terrorist groups,[2] which was interpreted as Moscow intending to recognize the Taliban administration. Therefore, this points to a change in Russia’s perception of the Taliban.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted the participating nations’ hope for the creation of an inclusive administration in Afghanistan in its post-summit statement. This suggests that, at least for the time being, the actors are not inclined to recognize the Taliban. Russia’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Zamur Kabulov, on the other hand, signaled a shift in the Kremlin’s Afghanistan policy by hinting that not inviting the Taliban to the meeting was an important message given by the countries of the region.[3]

First of all, it can be said that the main concern of the regional states and course Russia regarding Afghanistan is the fragility of regional security. Regional states believe that the instabilities concentrated on Afghanistan will not be limited to the country in question, and that radicalization and terrorism will have a domino effect and extend to China via the Wakhan Corridor on one hand, and to Central Asia and then to Russia on the other. The operations of the terrorist group Daul al-Iraq and al-Sham (Daesh) in Afghanistan, in particular, have harmed regional security. It is seen that these activities disturb actors such as Tajikistan and Iran.

This is the main reason for the efforts to develop a common stance. Russia’s view on the Taliban is changing because it feels obligated to be a part of this attempt to adopt a unified approach. Because Moscow has been criticized by several nations in the area as a result of the Ukraine War, as things are not progressing as they wish on the ground.

The Kremlin may not be able to handle the burden of establishing a different Afghanistan strategy than the regional nations in this setting, and it is aware of this. That’s why it seems to have changed its rhetoric against the Taliban. In other words, whereas Russia formerly believed that by signaling recognition of the Taliban, it might persuade regional states to align with its Afghanistan strategy, it no longer wants to focus its attention and energy on Afghanistan. Despite this, Russia is cautious to preserve the initiative on the Afghanistan Problem in its own hands by continuing the summits under the Moscow Format. In other words, the Kremlin aims to maintain its influence in the heartland, the epicenter of the Eurasian power struggle, without putting forth a significant effort.

In this context, it can be said that there are four main reasons for Russia’s policy change regarding the Taliban. The first of these is the international community’s stance. Because no state or international organization has yet recognized the Taliban, which has been ruling Afghanistan since August 2021. Russia, on the other hand, is exposed to heavy sanctions due to the war in Ukraine and is isolated from the international community. Moscow, which does not want its isolation to worsen, takes care to conform to the international community’s demands on this matter. As a result, it has concentrated on expressing general demands of the international community such as dialogue, peaceful resolution, and inclusive government.

The second reason is the effect of the Ukraine War on Russia-Central Asian relations. In this context, the Moscow administration highlights the need of building a collective stance through cooperating with regional nations, as well as a policy that prioritizes regional security.

The third reason is related to the fact that Moscow values its relationship with Tehran. Because of the conflict in Ukraine, Russia has attempted to strengthen its military cooperation with Iran.

The fourth reason is the Taliban’s rapprochement with the United States (US).  According to the Kremlin, the main responsible for the situation in Afghanistan is the US. As a result, Moscow must assume responsibility for Washington’s reconstruction of Afghanistan. Russia wants to keep the US out of the region. Because the Kremlin sees the Washington administration’s activities in the region as a challenge to its dominance in its immediate surroundings. Therefore, it interpreted Taliban rule as the US’s departure from the region and initially supported it. In reality, Russia was the first country to proclaim that the Kabul Embassy’s operations would continue after the Taliban took over the city. However, recently, the Taliban has been getting closer to the US. It is stated that the parties held talks in Doha. Furthermore, the matter of Afghan banknotes indicates the existence of a consultation mechanism. Hence, Russia is sending a message to the Taliban that it is aware of its relations with the US and is uncomfortable about it.

In conclusion, while Moscow welcomed the second Taliban era in Afghanistan, it recently changed its policy. The main reasons for this situation are Russia’s desire to share the international community’s perspective on Afghanistan, its efforts to preserve cooperation in its relations with Tajikistan and Iran, and its discomfort with signs of rapprochement in Taliban-US relations. As a result, the Kremlin government, which previously stated that it was planning to remove the Taliban from Russia’s list of terrorist groups and hosted both bilateral and numerous meetings in Moscow, decided to ignore the Taliban at the summit held on November 16, 2022.


[1] “پایان نشست مسکو؛ نمایندگان کشورها خواهان آشتی ملی و تشکیل حکومت فراگیر در افغانستان شدند”, Afintl, https://www.afintl.com/202211166034, (Date of Accession: 18.11.2022).

[2] Doğacan Başaran, “Taliban Divergence in Russia-Iran Relations?”, ANKASAM, https://www.ankasam.org/taliban-divergence-in-russia-iran-relations/?lang=en, (Date of Accession: 18.11.2022).

[3] “پایان نشست مسکو؛ نمایندگان کشورها خواهان آشتی ملی و تشکیل حکومت فراگیر در افغانستان شدند”, op.cit.

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN, 2014 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2017 yılında Giresun Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası Güç İlişkileri Bağlamında İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sonrası Hegemonik Mücadelelerin İncelenmesi’’ başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora derecesini ise 2021 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı‘nda hazırladığı “İmparatorluk Düşüncesinin İran Dış Politikasına Yansımaları ve Milliyetçilik” başlıklı teziyle alan Başaran’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, İran araştırmaları ve Afganistan çalışmalarıdır. Başaran iyi derecede İngilizce ve temel düzeyde Farsça bilmektedir.