With Afghan Collapse, Moscow Takes Charge in Central Asia
And largely to Russia’s benefit.
For Moscow, the chaotic American withdrawal, while reminiscent of Russia’s humiliating 1989 retreat from Afghanistan after its disastrous 10-year intervention, was a propaganda victory on a global scale.
From Latin America to Eastern Europe, Russia has fought for influence by insisting that the United States cannot be trusted. Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, warned that America’s friends in Ukraine could soon also be disappointed.
“The country is headed toward collapse, and the White House at a certain moment won’t even remember about its supporters in Kyiv,” Mr. Patrushev said in an interview published on Thursday.
The rapid fall of President Ashraf Ghani’s government was also a vindication of Russia’s yearslong strategy of building a diplomatic relationship with the Taliban. As Western diplomats scrambled to flee Kabul this week, Russian officials stayed put, with the Taliban guaranteeing the security of the Russian Embassy.
“They made a good impression on us,” Russia’s ambassador in Kabul, Dmitri Zhirnov, said of his embassy’s new Taliban guards on Russian state television this week. “They’re decent guys, well armed.”
At Russia’s most recent round of talks with the Taliban in Moscow, in July, the group pledged that its military gains would not be a threat to Russia or its interests. Russia hosted the Taliban for multiple rounds of talks even though the group is officially classified as a banned terrorist organization with Russia, making any association with it a potential crime.
“It’s pragmatism — and cynicism and double-think,” said Arkady Dubnov, a Russian expert on Central Asia, describing the Russian government’s strategy of building ties with the Taliban. “People are locked up in Russia for this kind of cooperation with a terrorist organization.”