Russia and Central Asian allies vow to prevent Afghan crisis spreading

Putin fears West's refugee flights from Kabul could bring militants to Russia's doorstep

Russian president Vladimir Putin takes part in a virtual meeting with leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. Photograph: Evgeniy Paulin,  Sputnik, Kremlin Poo/AP

Russian president Vladimir Putin takes part in a virtual meeting with leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. Photograph: Evgeniy Paulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Poo/AP

 

Russia and several ex-Soviet allies have pledged to work together to ensure the crisis in Afghanistan does not destabilise Central Asia, as the Kremlin lambasted western states for using the region as a staging post for the evacuation of refugees from Kabul.

The Kremlin fears that the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan could trigger problems in nearby states including Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which are members of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

At the same time, Moscow wants to ensure that the crisis does not prompt any Central Asian state to agree to host US troops, as Russia seeks to retain its strong influence in the strategic region despite growing competition from China.

In talks via video link with leaders from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus, Russian president Vladimir Putin “expressed deep concern over events in Afghanistan and potential threats emanating from Afghanistan” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.

The leaders shared concerns that militants from the Islamic State terror group “maintain quite strong positions in Afghanistan. This is a very dangerous tendency, which poses danger for the CSTO area”, he added.

Events in Afghanistan also increased the threat of drug trafficking to CSTO states, and the leaders ordered officials to develop “joint response measures” to counter “real risks that are emerging for the entire Eurasian region and the world as a whole”, Mr Peskov said.

He noted that CSTO leaders also discussed the danger of a new civil war in Afghanistan: “But of course no one plans to interfere in these events,” he said, adding that Russia had no intention of mediating between the Taliban and rival groups.

A summit

Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s security council, discussed Afghanistan on Monday with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan; at a summit in June, Mr Putin reportedly told US president Joe Biden that Russia and China would oppose the deployment of US troops anywhere in Central Asia.

The US and its allies are now flying Afghan refugees to a number of Central Asian states, where they will stay for an unspecified period of time before continuing their journey to the West – an approach that Mr Putin called “insulting”.

“So they [refugees] can be sent to these countries without visas, to our neighbours, but [western states] don’t want to take them without visas?” he said on Sunday.

“Who are these refugees? How do we know? We don’t want militants coming here under the guise of refugees,” Mr Putin added.

“We don’t even have visa restrictions with our closest allies and neighbours. And what’s the border like? It’s thousands of kilometres long. They could come however they want, in a car or even on a donkey, and travel across the steppe. And what are we going to do about this?”