Has Putin thrown all his weight behind the Taliban?

President Putin not only supports the Taliban’s demand of unfreezing the Afghan assets but also says Moscow is mulling over removing the Islamic group from its extremist list.

Regional experts argue that Russia seeks to end the American influence in much of the Central Asia and for that Moscow needs to undercut whatever remaining leverage the United States might have over the Taliban. (AP)

Russia has made some exceptionally bold decisions to cement its ties with the Taliban following the recent meeting at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi.

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In a bold move, President Putin backs the Taliban’s demand to unfreeze the Afghan assets to help the country solve the social and economic problems. These assets are worth billions of dollars that the Afghan central bank holds in reserves.

In addition to that, Putin said Russia is mulling over removing the Taliban from its extremist list on Thursday.

Moscow labelled the Taliban a “terrorist organisation” in 2003 but welcomed the Taliban for talks in Moscow several times before it seized power in Afghanistan in August.

”Russia is interested in having a calm, developing Afghanistan free of the terrorist threat and drug trafficking, and for that, it is necessary to help Afghanistan restore the economy,” said Putin.

He also added that the pullout could have been done differently, but assumes, as time passes, everything will fall into place.

For regional analysts, Russia views Afghanistan “primarily as a potential threat rather than a geopolitical opportunity”.

“It wants a positive relationship with the Taliban to secure Central Asia and its southern flank but is uncertain about mining sector deals or connectivity-related investment opportunities,” Samuel Ramani, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based defence and security think tank, told TRT World.

“I think Russia’s plan to de-list the Taliban as a terrorist group and unfreeze assets is aimed at creating goodwill with Afghanistan’s new leadership and leveraging that goodwill to enhance regional security. It is not really about outbidding China and Pakistan for influence, as Russia knows it cannot realistically do that,” Ramani added.

Cementing ties with the Taliban also serves the purpose of Moscow’s longstanding agenda of developing an alliance with the countries the US has tried to punish with ‘sanctions’.

“Russia’s opposition to what it sees as unilateral sanctions is a key tenet of its foreign policy. This supports Russia’s crusade against the U.S.-dominated international legal order, and its position on frozen assets mirrors its views on sanctions against Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela,” Ramani said.

As for security issues, Putin emphasized that Russian law enforcement maintains necessary contacts with the relevant Afghan structures.

He also said it would be interesting to hold one of the meetings of the Valdai Discussion Club in Afghanistan in the future.

Earlier this week, Russia has called for the mobilisation of international aid to support Afghanistan, as Moscow hosted the Taliban for an international conference.

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