The support of Russia towards the Taliban is no longer a secret. According to a military analyst, Russia is interested in building relationships with the Taliban to ensure it’s influenced in post-US Afghanistan.
Russia and America have been in a cold-war for a long time now. The undeclared war Russia is waging against the West now has many key elements. These include cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, and funding the extremists known as the Taliban.
Recently, The New York Times unfolded a story about a secret Russian military program for Afghanistan, called Unit 29155 of the GRU. Under this program, the Taliban receive bounties for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan. This bounty program had left several US military personnel dead including other troops in the coalition mainly of the United Kingdom.
Taliban used to kill the coalition forces in Afghanistan in exchange for the bounties. The inquiries unleashed electronic data which showed the banks account in Afghanistan receiving large sums of money. This bank account has been running by Russia’s military intelligence agency.
The report determined the transfers were likely part of an alleged bounty program for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan. Bomb explosions and gunfire in 2018 and 2019 killed 25 US troops. According to the New York Times, the sources of this story are militants and criminals captured and interrogated by the Afghani government.
Russia has denied that the bounty program exists. Issuing denials through Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov who declared it a fake and ridiculous story. According to the Russian top officials, this blame-game aimed to divert the attention from the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The American president, Donald Trump denies having any knowledge of the intelligence.
The Taliban too are confident that no such bounty program existed. The spokesperson of Taliban Zabiullah Mujahid has also denied having any sort of relationship with the Russian Intelligence. According to him, no bounty program existed to kill the American troops.
Why did Russia Approach Taliban
In the 1990s, Russia’s main interests were preventing terrorism, drug trafficking, and to save the central Asian States from the Afghan War. Russia strictly opposed the objectives of the Taliban. It supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance to make Asia a better place. This has changed now. In the recent years, Russia has been open about building ties with the Taliban. Afghanistan is important to several countries including Russia and the United States. It is the key to security for Russia and Russia sees Afghanistan as a key to its security.
Russia first decided to ally with the Afghan Taliban. This has alarmed the Afghan government, but Russia believes the Taliban will control large parts of Afghanistan in the future. There on they began a diplomatic channel with the Taliban in 2015. Russia now has on multiple occasions invited Taliban’s representatives and other senior Afghan figures to Moscow for talks to make them a part of the peace dialogue.
The alliance between Russia and the Taliban benefits them mutually. Moscow can maintain the influence in the region while the Taliban receive funding for their activities. Taliban have been building their power structures in Afghanistan as they now control more than half of the country. Russia wants to be the key player in Afghanistan and dealing with the Taliban is its only option. It becomes more important for their wider regional influence over Central Asia, particularly Tajikistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan.
From Political ties to Arms Supply
Russia and the Taliban have built a strong connection over several years. Likely, Russia has financially supported Taliban violence to destabilize the Afghan Peace process. Supposedly Russia’s increasing influence and the Taliban’s increasing supply of armed weapons are interconnected according to the NATO Commander. Both of them are supporting the agendas of each other in exchange for favors. This includes the supply of armed weapons and bounties on killing the American troops.
This alliance aims to sabotage the peace process in Afghanistan.
The NATO Commander declared this as a violation of international law. He feared that extremists could come into possession of Russian weapons for various reasons beyond Moscow’s control. Gen John Nicholson, the head of US forces in Afghanistan said that the Russian weapons and other equipment were smuggled across the Tajik border and supplied to the Taliban in 2018. This included hundreds of machine guns, explosives, and other weapons.
It is a fact that Russia today is undoubtedly hostile toward the United States. Moscow is desirous of curtailing American growing regional and global influence. Intelligence agencies are sure of the fact that the main funding source of the Afghan Taliban is Russia. There has been lots of progress regarding it this year. The US Naval investigation team recovered around $500,000 U.S currency in a recent raid on the Taliban outpost. The recovery of this amount has strengthened the suspicions that the funding source of the Taliban is none other than Russia.
The US alleged that Russia provided huge support in terms of financial and military support to the Taliban through illegal sources. Russia has denied all the allegations of alliance with the Taliban but has admitted that it has had talks with the revolutionary group. Moscow has long sought to curb the influence of Islamist extremists in central Asia. This region is a part of its historic sphere of influence. Last year, the Russian foreign ministry admitted to sharing intelligence with the Taliban to fight Isis in Afghanistan. NATO forces have also confiscated Iranian and Russian weapons from the possession of the Taliban.
The efforts of Russia to sabotage the Afghan peace talks might be the revenge for the defeat in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Americans, at that time, were supporting Mujahideen to defeat Russia.