Russia has been engaging with the Taliban for years. The U.S. withdrawal might give it an opportunity to expand its role.

Published: August 21, 2021 6:52 PM EDT
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit; Getty images via CBS News.

In the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan following the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces this week, Russia sees an opportunity to step up its role as a regional power in its own backyard. But it also faces a host of risks, prompting the country to pursue a dual approach: diplomacy with the Taliban and displays of strength along its border.

The Kremlin appears to be willing to engage with the Taliban in order to secure its interests. Since the group took over Kabul, Moscow representatives have cautiously reached out for talks to secure its diplomatic compounds in the area. Russian ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov even publicly praised the Taliban on Russian state TV.

“We are now being guarded by the Taliban, their big unit. They made a good impression on us, adequate guys, well-armed, they stood along the outer perimeter of the embassy so that no one could penetrate us — no terrorist, no crazy person,” Zhirnov said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, hinted Russia might recognize the Taliban as a governing force depending on their next moves, which could be a major win for the militants. Russian diplomats have also praised the Taliban over the “puppet government” of Ashraf Ghani, the president who fled Afghanistan and resurfaced in the UAE. Russia only partially evacuated its embassy.

“I judge based on the first day of their control over Kabul. My impressions are good. The situation in Kabul now is better than it was under Ashraf Ghani. That is, under the Taliban terrorists it is better than under Ghani,” Zhirnov said.

Russia put the Taliban on its terrorist list back in 2003 but welcomed Taliban representatives for talks since 2018, bypassing Ghani’s administration. In July, the Taliban even hosted a press conference in Moscow right after U.S. President Joe Biden’s address about the “orderly drawdown” of American troops.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the fight against terrorism the cornerstone of his presidency, justifying the country’s involvement in Syria and backing authoritarian leader Bashar al-Assad as a way to uphold stability.