RAMIL SITDIKOV | AFP | Getty Images
Initially, Russia’s response to the Taliban insurgency seemed to celebrate the defeat of the US-backed and driven Afghan government, as well as the departure of the US. Russian Ambassador to Kabul Dmitry Zhirnov praised the conduct of the Taliban and said the group helped make the Afghan capital safer within 24 hours of leaving the United States. This despite Russia’s official recognition of the Taliban as a terrorist organization.
“The Russians feel like they have won a major triumph,” Kate Mallinson, associate member of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House, said during a webinar for the Chatham House think tank.
“They feel they are going to reaffirm their influence in Central Asia,” she said, noting that Russia was likely to try to further strengthen its position as a key guarantor of the region’s security.
Moscow wields significant military and economic influence over the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, most notably Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, all of which directly border Afghanistan.
“But I would say that kind of propaganda victory is more Pyrrhic than triumphant,” Mallinson added.
Russia launched its own evacuation plans on Wednesday, sending four military planes to evacuate 500 Russian citizens and those of its regional allies. The directive, which came on the orders of President Vladimir Putin, marked a sharp change in the Kremlin’s stance on the Taliban takeover.
It came amid a massive withdrawal effort at Kabul airport, with countries scrambling to get people out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan before the president’s August 31 deadline. Joe Biden.
Tens of thousands of people had chaotically gathered at Hamid Karzai International Airport since the Taliban captured the capital, desperately seeking to secure a safe passage out of the country.
” Hurry up “
More recently, however, the tone seems to have changed. “The situation is changing, time is running out, the situation remains extremely tense and we are still following it very closely and are keeping our concerns,” said Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, on Wednesday.
Putin had previously said he hoped the Taliban would give assurances that they would restore order, saying it was important not to allow terrorists to enter neighboring countries.
“It will be much more difficult than the Russians claim. Even if the Taliban keep their promises to the Russians, they will face a much more asymmetric war and it will be much more unpredictable than the Russians can. face it, I think, ”Mallinson told CNBC.
That’s because the crisis comes at a time when many Central Asian countries are at their “lowest ebb,” Mallinson said, citing disenfranchised populations across the region, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. and the extremely severe drought this year.
Nozim Kalandarov | TASS | Getty Images
Reuters reported on Wednesday that the Kremlin said it had learned lessons from the Soviet Union’s failed intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s and would not deploy armed forces there.
Russian influence in Central Asia
“They can be both somewhat happy that the United States is in the bud and nervous about the implications. They fear destabilizing the flow of refugees, they fear a safe haven for groups that might attack them from Afghanistan, and they fear, as Putin recently said, that militants might be hiding among the refugees, ”he said. she declared.
“If stability is maintained under the Taliban and the Taliban keep their promise not to let Afghanistan be a base for attacks on Russia and Central Asia and, ideally, stop the flow of opium, then the Russia can live with it, ”added Oliker. . “But things could turn out badly – Russia will seek to strengthen Central Asia if necessary. “
Haroon Sabawoon | Agence Anadolu | Getty Images
“Does this mean that they can be sent without a visa to these countries, to our neighbors, while they themselves [the West] I don’t want to take them without a visa? “Putin said, Russian news agencies reported last week. “Why is there such a humiliating approach to solving the problem? “
“I think it will be of particular concern [to Russia] that the Tajik and Uzbek ethnic regions of Afghanistan, normally a buffer against the Taliban, have also come under Taliban control, ”Tim Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, told CNBC by email.
Ash said he would expect Russia, which he described as having previously used a “hard fist” approach to Islamic extremism, to strengthen its already large military presence in Tajikistan and possibly even extend it to Uzbekistan.
“Central Asian states will, however, be worried that Moscow may use the threat of an Islamist insurgency to advance its idea of a Eurasian Union and its centralization program that Putin is pursuing in the CIS space -” look at Belarus, ”Ash said, noting that this precedes the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the USSR in December of this year.
The Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, refers to a regional intergovernmental organization of nine former Soviet republics in Eurasia.
Russia is expected to step up pressure on Central Asian countries to join the Eurasian Economic Union, a Moscow-led initiative that currently includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.