In the last two weeks, the Taliban and Russian recent contacts were seriously looked down in the domestic and international media. This issue came after Zameer Kabulov, the former Russian ambassador to Afghanistan and currently the special Russian envoy to Afghanistan, said in an interview with Interfax news agency that he is in contact with the Taliban against ISIS.
After the Zameer Kabulov’s statement, the Western media broadcasted some news about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with the Taliban Leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in the last September in Tajikistan as well.
The past and present of Taliban-Russia relations and the impacts of recent Taliban-Russia contacts on the Kabul-Moscow ties are analyzed here.
Taliban-Russia Relations during the Taliban Regime
After the fall of Dr. Najeeb, the Russians’ strategy in Afghanistan became changed and for the first time, it started cooperation with Mujahedeen and with the emergence of the Taliban, the ties between Mujahedeen especially those from the Northern Coalition and Russians became warmer.
During the Taliban regime, talks between the Russian and Taliban representatives initiated in Islamabad and after that, according to the head of Russia-Table in the Afghan Foreign Ministry, Russians, for several times, wished to establish ties with the Taliban. In 1997, Russians, in Islamabad, suggested that Taliban should do negotiations with their opponents and the most important thing in this contact was to respect Russia’s territorial integrity after the representative of Chechnya was visiting Kabul.
In 1998, two days after America’s missile attack on Afghanistan, the Afghan Embassy in United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as Afghan Embassy in Pakistan sent a report to Kabul that Russians wishes to send an envoy heading by Alexander Obelov to Kabul in order to reopen Russian Embassy in Kabul; however, this trip did not take place due to Taliban’s rejection.
At that time, the Russian concerns were about the drug-trafficking, extremist groups in Central Asia, official recognition of Chechnya by the Taliban and etc. Therefore, they wanted to establish ties with the Taliban.
At all, the ties between the Taliban and Russia were unfriendly; however, both had contacts with each other; but, with the official recognition of Chechnya these contacts were cut off then.
Taliban-Russia Relations: (2001-2014)
After the 9/11, the U.S.A and NATO started Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Russia not only welcomed United Nations Security Council sanctions on the Taliban but it also welcomed American attacks on Afghanistan. Russians reopened their embassy in Kabul on 28 December, 2001, and started military cooperation with the Afghan government and Gen. Qaseem Fahim and Mohammad Younus Qanoni who were Defense and Interior ministers at the times visited to Moscow between 2001 and 2003.
In the second term of Hamid Karzai, the foreign policy of Afghanistan became changed compared to 2002-2009, and so the Afghan-Russia relations became better in the second term of Hamid Karzai as compared to his first term.
In Hamid Karzai’s second term, Afghanistan due to Pashtunistan Issue and bad relations with America supported Russian position in Ukraine. The Bilateral trade also increased in this era and reached up to $1B in 2013.
After the fall of the Taliban, there were some contacts between Taliban and Russians in 2006 and 2007. The motive behind these contacts was seeking cooperation in controlling drug-trafficking into Central Asia.
After a Russian pilot was taken hostage by the Taliban in 2013, Zameer Kabulov, on the behalf of Russian, started negotiations with the Taliban and almost after a year, the Taliban released the Russian pilot, then; the relations between the Taliban and Russia, however, were not good and close at that time at all and sometimes, Russians were contacting the Taliban for some issues.
ISIS: the common threat
With the emergence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the Russian interests in Middle East were faced with threats; therefore, Moscow started to support Basahar Al Asad’s regime in Syria and for a while, it has also initiated air assault on ISIS in that country.
In the last 12 months, the Russian senior officials have also warned about the ISIS presence, and have made statements in this regards as well. They have considered the aim of ISIS to get closer to the Russian border and threaten the interests of its allies. Russians’ concerns about ISIS are due to the following reasons:
First; The presence of Central Asian and Russian fighters in the ranks of ISIS;
Second; the pledging of allegiance by some Central Asian militant groups to ISIS (like, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Unity and the Jamaatul Ansar group);
Third; the ISIS, itself, is a threat to Russian security;
Fourth; the presence of this group (ISIS) threatens Moscow’s interests in Central Asia and Middle East;
On the other hand, the Taliban had precarious approach toward ISIS at first, but after some of the Taliban leaders joined this group and armed conflict happened between them. As a result, the Taliban sent an official letter to ISIS leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi; however, the ISIS showed harsh reaction in response. Therefore, the disputes between ISIS and the Taliban became wider, and now they did not only argue about the legitimacy of Amir (Supreme Leader), but they are also involved in the bloody fighting in a number of provinces. For the reason, Russians, in order to eliminate the common threat, the have now established contacts with the Taliban.
ISIS and impacts on the political-security landscape of Afghanistan
The security and political scenario of the country has been the same since 2001 to 2014 and even the opponents of America (Russia and Iran) was also supporting the war against the Taliban, but after the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan, the political and security landscape is not the same as it was in 2001-2014 era.
With the emergence of ISIS, the coalitions and unity among the Afghan armed opposition is also influenced. Hizb-i Islami (Hekmatyar) welcomed ISIS against the Taliban; the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan separated itself from the Taliban and pledged its allegiance to ISIS and even some Taliban members (like, Aburrauf Khadem who became appointed as the Deputy Governor of Khurasan, he, however, became killed as a result of a raid in Helmand later) also joined the ranks of ISIS in Afghanistan.
At international level, the ISIS has also changed scenario for Afghanistan, and for the first time, it has motivated Iran and Russia to come closer to the Taliban; because all of them consider ISIS as a common threat.
Taliban-Russia Contacts and its impacts on Kabul-Moscow Ties
Zameer Kaboluv, the Russian special envoy to Afghanistan, for the time has talked about having contacts with the Taliban and said that he has contacted the Taliban in order to get cooperation in the war against ISIS. Although, the Taliban have denied these contacts and relations with Russia specifically to ISIS; but they have not denied contacts with some other countries.
On the other side, the Afghan government is yet to provide official answer to these expressions through its Foreign Ministry and it has not summoned the Russian ambassador, either. However, some PMs in the Wolesi Jirga (the Lower House of the Parliament) have criticized these ties and, the spokesperson of the Afghan Defense Ministry has also said that these ties are not acceptable to them.
The Russia and the Taliban contacts have two probabilities. One of its probabilities is that the Russians insist on and the other one is originated from the Russians’ past experiences and due to the regional geo-political changes.
First Probability; Hekmat Khalil Karzai, the Political Deputy Foreign Minister met the Russian ambassador in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the statements of Zameer Kabulov and asked him for explanations. The Russian ambassador in response told that the words of Zameer Kabulov are interpreted incorrectly; because the aim of his words was that Russia is interested in coordinating the Taliban in fight against ISIS and for Afghanistan’s political solution in order for the government to solve its issue with its armed opposition.
The Taliban stated the same words in its statement and said that they have established contacts with different countries in the region in order to end the “American Invasion”.
Now, the Russian interest’s is to prevent ISIS and it is likely possible when the on-going war ends in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban become ready to have peace with the government and America withdraw from the region.
It is why, Zameer Kaboluv, after his first expressions, said that Russia is ready to support the probable decrease of sanction put on the Taliban by UN on the condition if this issue is not against the national interests of Afghanistan. Besides that, it has also supported the peace policy of the Afghan government, also.
Second Probability: Russia would have made contacts with the Taliban due to following reasons:
First: Russia would be suspicious of the Afghan government that it is not sincerely fighting ISIS, so it would have contacted the Taliban directly in order to decrease the threats to its security.
Second: Russia, considering the regional and international situation, wants to interfere in the Afghan internal affairs directly and threaten the American interests here.
 For further information read: Muzhdah, Waheed, Afghanistan: in the five year of the Taliban government, Tehran, 2003.
 See online: http://csrskabul.com/pa/blog/%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%84-%D9%87%D9%81%D8%AA%D9%87-%D8%B4%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%87-%DB%B1%DB%B1%DB%B8-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%DB%B2%DB%B6-%D8%AB%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%DB%8C-%DB%B2-%D8%AC%D9%88%D8%B2/
 Thomas Ruttig, From Point Zero to ‘New Warmth’: Russian-Afghan relations since 1989, Afghanistan Analysts Network, 2014.
 See online: http://csrskabul.com/pa/blog/%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%84-%D9%87%D9%81%D8%AA%D9%87-%D8%B4%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%87-%DB%B1%DB%B4%DB%B2-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%DB%B2%DB%B3-%D8%A7%D9%84%DB%8C-%DB%B3%DB%B0-%D8%B9%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%A8/
 See the third footnote.