Sorry that I had been away. The tragedy in Afghanistan got me busy on several fronts, and it has been mentally taxing. I have written quite a few articles about it that I will link to at the end of this post. For now, I’ll talk about Russia’s view of the catastrophe there, and I will follow up soon with a similar post on Iran.
The Kremlin is yet to make an official statement, and there has been no National Security Council meeting about it as of yet. Vladimir Putin has had several phone calls with world leaders about it, however, including the presidents of Tajikistan, Iran, and France and the prime minister of Italy. In addition, he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany at the Kremlin.
Here are a few quick points I want to bring to your attention:
During the press conference with Merkel, Putin used Afghanistan as an example to attack the idea of promoting liberal values by the United States. This is a constant theme in Putin’s rhetorics. Whether he in fact has disdain for liberalism or not is a good question, but he certainly sees it as a threat to his rule, and he keeps making the point that liberalism won’t work in Russia or really most of the world. Here’s a quote from the press conference by Putin:
It is imperative to put an end to the irresponsible policy of imposing outside values on others, to the desire to build democracies in other countries according to other nations’ “patterns” without regard to historical, national or religious specifics and totally ignoring the traditions of other nations.
This point has been echoed by a couple of political scientists close to the Kremlin. Fedor Lukyanov, a Russian political scientist, wrote:
Twenty years ago, convinced neoconservatives and neoliberals in Washington really believed that establishing democracy around the world, imposing universal rules, was in America's interests. Hence the crazy plans to build a "modern democratic state" in Afghanistan. Now dreams have dissipated, there is naked pragmatism, rules on the side.
He continued that the United States is now waking up to the problems of an extroverted and values-driven foreign policy and will be more inward-focused and “pragmatic” in its foreign policy in the future. Finally, he mocked President Joe Biden’s “America is back” rhetoric, saying that Biden meant “America is back at home.”
Arkady Dubnov from the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow, who is known for echoing the Kremlin’s views, did a lengthy interview on Afghanistan, which he shared on his Facebook page. He repeated a criticism of America’s values-driven foreign policy. But he had other points, too:
I even know the name of the man who is considered the head of this technocratic transitional government. His name is Haji Ahmad Shah. An Afghan businessman, an ethnic Pashtun, 56, lives in one of the Arab Emirates. He was educated in Dushanbe, seemingly fluent in Russian. The Taliban has been in contact with him for a long time. I admit that Moscow is in contact, too. Anyway, they know about his existence here. (Emphasis added.)
Russia is betting on forging a relationship with the Taliban. I get to this a bit later in this newsletter.
The other issue at stake is Islamism and terrorism and the cross-section of the two. Chechens are the most famous Russian Muslims and a real concern for the Russian regime. Chechnya is a semi-autonomous region on the western side of the Caspian Sea in southwestern Russia, and, many thanks to the geographic convenience, was one of the main suppliers of foreign fighters to the Islamic State. The head of the Chechen Republic is Ramzan Kadyrov, who seems to intimidate Putin. But geography will make it challenging for Chechens to establish the same kind of relationship they established with the Islamic State as they do not have a clear path to Afghanistan. The real concern is ideological motivation and homegrown terrorism, especially given Putin’s limited room to maneuver in Chechnya.
Adam Shakhidov, a religious affairs adviser to Kadyrov, complimented the Taliban on his Instagram a few days ago. He later commented, “If the Taliban prove that they’re anti-Salafists and that they’re against extremist Wahhabis, then I, too, will support them because that is our way.” It is noteworthy that Kadyrov has rejected the Taliban as an American project, but the divide between the political class and the religious class is exactly what is alarming to the Russian regime, leaving the potential for extremism.
There is also the related issue of migration from Afghanistan. Russia doesn’t share a border with Afghanistan, but it is an attractive destination with already Afghan migrants who have been living there for years, whom Russia has started to deport in recent days. “Security in the northern region of Afghanistan” has been a Kremlin talking point, and border security is a large part of that security. So expect Putin to be hugging Central Asian republics quite tight to stop the migrants from arriving at Russia’s borders. Especially at a time when Russia is becoming poorer and relying more on ethnic and religious cohesiveness, poor Afghan refugees is the last thing Putin needs.
Last, and most importantly, is what Russia is going to do with the Taliban regime. There have been talks in the Russian press of a “coalition government” and that the Taliban will only remove figureheads and leave the rest of the government in place. There are also talks of how the Taliban have matured and moderated. Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan called the Taliban “adequate men” and said there is no alternative to the Taliban as the resistance is doomed. It sounds like a rehabilitation campaign is already underway. Former ambassador and now Putin’s personal envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, confirmed to Reuters that Russia is in constant talks with the Taliban.
The problem, however, is that Russia’s highest court, in accordance with a United Nations Security Council resolution, declared the Taliban a terrorist group in 2003—how ridiculous that the United States that has been at war with them and went through 9/11 doesn’t consider them a terrorist group, but Russia does—which creates a set of legal issues for Putin’s regime to maintain formal relations. According to Russian law, the press cannot mention the Taliban without noting that it is a terrorist organization. As Meduzahas explained, it is not that easy to change this status. This is what Putin will have to work around.
In all likelihood, however, Putin will get around it. The Taliban made a formal request to Russia back in June to push the United Nations Security Council to overturn its resolution. Russia has incentives to do this. First, the alliance of anti-Americanism just got larger in that happy neighborhood of the world—Russia, China, Iran, and now Afghanistan, and make what you can out of Pakistan—and it would be a pity not to take full advantage of it. There is also the refugee crisis that Putin will have to seek the Taliban’s help to minimize. He also needs to maintain diplomatic relations to make sure that Afghanistan won’t target Russian Muslims as ideological allies and inspire terrorism.
Here are my recent articles on Afghanistan, chronologically:
AUGUST 13, 2021 5:30 AM
Blame Biden for Afghanistan’s Return to the Dark Ages
Executions, sex slavery, ethnic cleansing—and yet the president says “I do not regret my decision.”
AUGUST 16, 2021 1:11 AM
Why the Afghan Army Fell to the Taliban
When the U.S. withdrawal was announced, logistical support evaporated.
AUGUST 17, 2021 4:28 PM
Biden’s Disingenuous Speech on the Afghanistan Withdrawal
Strawmen, falsehoods, and victim-blaming.
AUGUST 20, 2021 4:48 AM
The U.S. Should Support Afghanistan’s Northern Resistance
The fighting remnant of the Afghan armed forces is now coalescing—and is Afghanistan’s last hope.
Afghanistan is both a foreign policy and a humanitarian catastrophe. Do not forget about it. The condition of life elsewhere has a direct impact on the way of our life at home. That is the lesson of 9/11. Also, advocate for the admission of refugees. Nobody will appreciate our liberal regime here more than a refugee fleeing the Islamist theocracy. I know it because I am one of those refugees.
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