Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the International Military Technical Forum “Army-2021”, which will be held on Sept.


LONDON – The spreading crisis in Afghanistan poses significant risks to Russia and Central Asia, geopolitical experts warn, despite the Kremlin attempting to claim a propaganda victory over the US

At first, Russia’s response to the Taliban uprising appeared to celebrate the defeat of the American-backed and trained Afghan government and the US withdrawal. Russia’s ambassador to Kabul, Dmitry Zhirnov, praised the Taliban’s behavior and said the group had helped make the Afghan capital safer in the first 24 hours after leaving the United States. Even though Russia officially recognizes the Taliban as a terrorist organization.

“The Russians feel they have achieved a great triumph,” said Kate Mallinson, Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, during a webinar for the Chatham House think tank.

“They believe they will regain their influence in Central Asia,” she said. Russia will likely try to further consolidate its position as the region’s main security guarantor.

Moscow has significant military and economic influence over the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, all of which directly border Afghanistan.

“But I would say that kind of propaganda victory is more pyrrhic than triumph,” added Mallinson.

Russia launched its own evacuation plans on Wednesday, dispatching four military planes to evacuate 500 Russian citizens and those of its regional allies. The directive, issued by order of President Vladimir Putin, marked an abrupt change in the Kremlin’s attitude towards the Taliban’s takeover.

It came amid massive withdrawal efforts at Kabul airport as countries sought to evacuate people from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan before a deadline set by President Joe Biden on August 31.

Tens of thousands of people had gathered chaotically at Hamid Karzai International Airport in the days since the Taliban captured the capital, desperately looking for a safe exit from the country.

‘Time is running out’

Kremlin envoys have insisted that the US should not shift responsibility for the collapse of Afghanistan on to others, and state media have tried to portray the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan as a major coup.

More recently, however, the tone seems to have changed. “The situation is developing, time is running out, the situation remains extremely tense and we are still following it most closely and maintaining our concerns,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.

Putin previously said he hopes the Taliban will give assurances that they will restore order and said it was important not to allow terrorists to invade neighboring countries.

“It will be much more difficult than the Russians think. Even if the Taliban keep their promises to the Russians, they will have to deal with much more asymmetrical warfare and it will be much more unpredictable than the Russians will be able to.” to deal with, I think, “Mallinson told CNBC.

That’s because the crisis comes at a time when many Central Asian countries are at the “deepest abyss,” Mallinson said, citing disenfranchised populations across the region, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the extremely severe drought this year.

Russian soldiers are seen during a joint military exercise by Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan at the Harb-Maidon training area, 20 km from the border with Afghanistan.

Nozim Kalandarov | TASS | Getty Images

Moscow has reinforced its military base in Tajikistan, a country that shares an 843-mile border with Afghanistan, where it will hold military exercises for a month.

Reuters reported Wednesday that the Kremlin had announced that it had learned the lessons of the Soviet Union’s failed intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s and that it would not deploy any armed forces there.

Russia’s Influence in Central Asia

Olga Oliker, director for Europe and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group, told CNBC that Russia “very much recognizes” the potential security problems for Central Asia and for itself due to the Afghanistan crisis.

“You can be both a little pleased that the US has an egg on your face and nervous about the impact. They fear destabilizing flows of refugees, they fear a safe haven for groups who might attack them from Afghanistan, and they fear, as Putin recently said, that “militants might hide among the refugees,” she said.

“If stability under the Taliban holds and the Taliban keep their promise not to allow Afghanistan as a base for attacks on Russia and Central Asia and, ideally, to stop the flow of opium, then Russia can live with it,” added Oliker. “But it could go wrong – Russia will try to strengthen Central Asia as needed.”

Afghans trying to leave the country continue to wait around Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 26, 2021.

Haroon Sabawoon | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Putin has criticized the idea of ​​some Western countries trying to relocate refugees from Afghanistan to Central Asia while their visas for the US and the European Union are being processed.

“Does that mean that they can be sent to these countries, to our neighbors, without a visa, while they are themselves [the West] don’t you want to take them with you without a visa? “said Putin, Russian news agencies reported last week.” Why is there such a humiliating approach to solving the problem?

Eurasian Union

Among Afghanistan’s neighbors, Tajikistan has pledged to take in up to 100,000 refugees. It is working with the United Nations and other agencies to set up camps and other facilities in response to the humanitarian crisis.

“I think it will be a special concern [to Russia] that ethnic Tajik and Uzbek regions of Afghanistan, which are normally a buffer against the Taliban, have also come under Taliban control, “Tim Ash, senior emerging market strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, emailed CNBC.

Ash said he expected Russia, which had previously used a “hard fist” approach to Islamic extremism, would strengthen its already large military presence in Tajikistan, and perhaps even extend it to Uzbekistan.

“However, the Central Asian states will be nervous that Moscow could use the threat of an Islamist uprising to advance its idea of ​​the Eurasian Union and the centralization agenda that Putin is pursuing across the CIS – look at Belarus,” Ash 30 said Anniversary of the collapse of the USSR in December of this year.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) refers to a regional intergovernmental organization of nine former Soviet republics in Eurasia.

Russia is expected to increase pressure on countries in Central Asia to join the Eurasian Economic Union, a Moscow-led initiative that currently includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.