As IGTDS reports, supposedly between late 2018 and early 2019 Russia has begun funding Taliban to harm the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The involvement was confirmed by certain facts of interaction and cooperation between the Taliban and the Russian leaders. Russian support of the Taliban is political and military, it includes the weapons supply, also military assistance and, most likely, the tactical level of operations’ planning. Such cooperation has been active for at least 3.5-4 years.

According to the NYT, American intelligence officials have made a conclusion that Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing the representatives of coalition forces in Afghanistan -€” including targeting American troops -€” amid the negotiations to end the long-lasting war in the region. In March 2020 the United States concluded that the Russian Unit 29155, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe aimed to destabilize it or take revenge on turncoats, had offered rewards for successful attacks in 2019. Operations involving Unit 29155 tend to be much more violent than those involving the cyberunits. Intel officials claimed that Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money. The analysis made by intelligence is said to be based on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals. The officials did not describe the mechanics of the Russian operations and the way the targets were selected or how money changed hands.

It is unclear whether Russian operatives had deployed inside Afghanistan or met with their Taliban counterparts elsewhere, the data analysis suggests that Russian tactical groups were seen in Taliban-controlled territories during at least 2017. In May 2017 chief of the northern province of Baghlan, Brig. Gen. Ikramuddin Sarai, told Pajhwok Afghan News that Russian and other foreign military advisers had arrived to support the Taliban amid heavy clashes. This Russian group is a military assistance unit with the Russian Special Operations Forces, and its tasks might have been not only to assist in the development of operations against coalition forces and the Afghan government, but also to study the specificity of the U.S. order of battle in Afghanistan.

It is possible that the Taliban sought to refrain from attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan since February 2020. However, even though the Taliban have not attacked American positions since a February agreement, it does not mean that such attacks, encouraged by Russia, had not been launched before that time.

The Kremlin supposes that the losses in the U.S. troops should cause a wave of grievance in America and, as a result, trigger a complete withdrawal of the troops from the region. Moreover, the Kremlin believes this scenario would keep the U.S. from taking part in other overseas military operations, as well as facilitate further reduction in the number of U.S. military groups abroad. Russia seeks to gain a foothold in Afghanistan by betting on the Taliban as the country’s political foundation. Such choice allows the Kremlin to get an ally, and the relations with this ally are based on common values and do not affect the issues of democracy, freedoms, and the primacy of international law. Thus, the Kremlin could speak the same way with the Taliban, using the pragmatic categories of mutual services.

The Kremlin is ramping up political, economic activities and propaganda to improve its image and reestablish Russian influence amid pervasive corruption that is obstructing progress in Afghanistan. Russia is ready to offer assistance to the Taliban in gaining power in Afghanistan, demanding to strengthen Kremlin’€™s geopolitical influence in the region and, in return, grapple with U.S. regional one. Russian alliance with the Taliban enables Moscow to use local armed forces in order to exert pressure on other countries in the region. As a result Russia will be able to control the post-Soviet countries of Central Asia, playing up the fear of the Taliban’s invasion. This will expedite Russian military export to these countries, as well as the rapid deployment of military groups there, including for the purpose of entrenching political leadership in these countries.

Russia uses the tactics of incorporating the leaders of illegal (terrorist, separatist) armed groups into power in Afghanistan. It enables the Kremlin to control the relations of Afghanistan with the West, in particular -€“ to keep countries from establishing close relations (because of a categorical divergence in values and image risks), as well as maintaining the Kremlin’€™s influence and the full dependence of illegal authorities on Russia.

Taliban-backed Russia’s return to Afghanistan is in line with the Kremlin’s confrontational model of the Cold War era. The foreign policy that Putin provides comes down to the need to have an external enemy. It enables Russian society to consolidate around the government, as well as take responsibility for Russia’€™s failures in domestic social and economic policy.

Thus, the Kremlin’€™s come-back to Afghanistan is symbolic since Russia extremely writhes at being defeated in this country in 1979-1989 and blames the U.S. on it. The Kremlin believes that strengthening Russia’€™s hand in Afghanistan, mounting U.S. losses there is a kind of Kremlin’s revenge for the deaths of the Soviets in the Afghan war Moscow blames Washington for, despite the Russian invasion of Kabul in 1979. The policy provided by Vladimir Putin aimed to revive the Soviet Union and the idea of the return of the Russian lands.

Russia is highly unlikely to be seeking revenge on NATO forces for a 2018 battle in Syria in which the American military killed several hundreds pro-Syrian forces, including numerous Russian mercenaries, as they attacked an American outpost. First, the Kremlin interacted with the Taliban before 2018; secondly, those killed in Syria were not military personnel, but Wagner Group mercenaries -€“ Moscow does not take their losses as a challenge.

In 2019 Zamir Kabulov, a former KGB agent at the center of Kremlin’€™s Afghanistan involvement, since the 1980s and till now -€“ special envoy in Afghanistan, wanted to know whether Washington would agree to have secret talks about the country’€™s future with Russia, Iran and several other states. The alliance with the Taliban allows the Kremlin to obtain additional say over Pakistan that has been trying to drive the Taliban out of North and South Waziristan for over 10 years. Likewise, Moscow gets additional argument in relations with Iran, which is concerned about the separatist ideas of the Baluchi people to set up their own state on the border with Afghanistan. Influence on Pakistan and Iran opens up prospect for indirect influence on India and China.

The involvement of the Unit 29155 in the activities of the Taliban in Afghanistan was also proved by the fact that a February meeting with the Taliban, that took place in 2019, was held at the President Hotel in Bolshaya Yakimanka, in Moscow. The hotel belongs to the Presidential Administration, it came to the IGTDS analysts’€™ attention when studying the activity of Russian anti-globalization movement, responsible for working with a large network of Internet trolls and separatist movements all over the world. The analysis, published in December 2019, suggests that Russian anti-globalization movement leaders are associated with the Russian military intel units 74455 and 29155 – consequently, the U.S. intelligence data regarding the contacts of Russian military intelligence with the Taliban and the agreements on military operations against coalition forces in Afghanistan are indirectly confirmed.

These facts provide additional arguments in support of the law recognizing Russia as a state sponsoring terrorism. The Republican Study Committee (RSC), which has 147 legislators from the Republican Party, has submitted Strengthening America and countering global threats paper, where they propose to extend sanctions against Moscow and label Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. This will ratchet up pressure on Moscow and cut back on backing terrorist organizations around the world.