Russia moves to take control of Afghan talks after Taliban takeover

Russia moves to take control of Afghan talks after Taliban takeover
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has invited all five Central Asian states, China, Pakistan, India, the United States, Iran, Russia and the Afghan conflicting parties to participate.
By bne IntelIiNews August 20, 2021

Russia moved to take control of talks with the Taliban following the fundamentalist insurgent group's sudden dramatic takeover of the country on August 15 by proposing to restart the Moscow format talks with the new leadership in Kabul.

“Russia stands for the need for an urgent transition to a national dialogue in Afghanistan with the participation of all forces; Moscow format on Afghanistan has the most prospects for creating conditions for restarting inter-Afghan dialogue,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on August 19.

Russia is ready to restart the Moscow format talks but so far it has not put forward any specific proposals, Lavrov said. The Kremlin is waiting for the Taliban to form a government with which it can negotiate.

"We also welcomed the Taliban's statement that they want to enter into dialogue with other political forces in Afghanistan. A meeting has already been announced with the participation of Abdullah Abdullah , Chairman of the Supreme Council of National Reconciliation, with the participation of Hamid Karzai, the former President of Afghanistan, and with the participation of the Chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Hekmatyar, " Lavrov said at a press conference following talks with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Government of National Unity (PNU) of Libya, Najla Mankush.

He added that Moscow proceeds from the fact that all members of this group have announced their desire to meet and negotiate in the interests of the Afghan people.

“I am convinced that the Moscow format has the greatest prospect, since the situation has already acquired a regional dimension. Neighboring countries and countries that are located further from Afghanistan are responding to it,” the Russian Foreign Minister said.

He recalled that all five Central Asian states, China , Pakistan , India , the United States , Iran , Russia and the Afghan conflicting parties participate in the "Moscow format" .

In the meantime Russia has offered to help with the international evacuation of the country. Russia is ready to provide civil planes to evacuate Afghan nationals who want to leave the country to any other state, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing on August 19.

"In the light of the situation that we now see at the airport of Kabul and the inability of some Western countries to arrange the evacuation of their diplomats, military and civilians from Afghanistan, to say nothing about Afghan nationals who cooperated with them, and their families who want to leave the country but have no possibility, we would like to say the following: In order to prevent the worsening of the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, we are ready to provide the services of Russian civil aviation to ensure the flight of any number of Afghan nationals, including women and children, to whichever foreign countries will show an interest in receiving and accommodating them," the diplomat said.

"Representatives of the new authorities in Afghanistan have assured us that there are no fundamental obstacles for the arrival in Kabul and departure of Russian civil aircraft. The safety of the planes, their crews and passengers is guaranteed," the diplomat added.

Chess pieces being laid out as new Great Game starts

With the US withdrawal since the president of Afghanistan fled the country and Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15 Russia and China are now positioned in regions as the major powers. While nominally allies there is still a rivalry between Beijing and Moscow in Central Asia.

With a military base in Tajikistan and a proactive security agenda, Russia has already deployed troops on the Afghan-Tajik border and has started month-long military exercises with the Uzbeks last week to bolster the military presence on the Afghan-Uzbek border.

China has let Russia take the lead as far as security  is concerned but it has been the major investor in the region, pouring billions into infrastructure projects and securing access to raw materials through joint investments. As bne IntelliNews reported, China is particularly interested in Afghanistan’s lithium and other mineral deposits.

Both Moscow and Beijing have already gone out of their way to keep relations with the incoming Taliban government friendly, but now Moscow is attempting to take control of the political process that has to begin once the Taliban form a new government.

Lavrov also welcome the promises for a more lenient and forgiving Taliban regime that the Taliban spokesman laid out at the groups first press conference this week. However, there is  a great deal so scepticism as there are continuing reports of killing and beatings from the other cities in the regions. Two journalists were reportedly badly beaten in Kabul on August 19 and the famous female anchor-woman of TOTO news, one of the leading outlets in the country, was told, “the regime has changed. Go home,” when she turned up for work yesterday.

“Russia will in every possible way encourage dialogue between the Taliban and other political forces in Afghanistan and seek to translate it into concrete deeds,” Lavrov said.

Russia is interested in developing its influence in Central Asia as it has a shared interest in opening up the region to trade in SE Asia as an export route for its energy as it anticipates falling demand for oil and gas in Western Europe as part of the EU’s Green Deal in the coming decade.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is also trying to develop his Eurasia Economic Union (EEU) as a facsimile of the EU which he hopes to eventually tie up with to form a single trade block from “Lisbon to Vladivostok” as a geopolitical counter to China’s inevitable rise.