Here’s Why Russia’s Afghan Evacuation Operation Went Off Without A Hitch
Russia’s Afghan evacuation operation went off without a hitch due to two “diplomatic miracles”: the US allowing Russia to use the Kabul Airport despite the political tensions between them and the Taliban not interfering with its citizens’ access to that departure point as well as that of the other foreign nationals that Moscow was responsible for rescuing.
Four Russian military transport planes carrying over 500 people from Russia, some of the CSTO states, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan successfully departed from Kabul Airport on Wednesday. This follows Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov’s announcement from the day prior that his country was planning to return some of its diplomats back home who were there on business trips that had already ended as well as those who had already planned to go on vacation but couldn’t after the Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover of the capital. According to RT correspondent Murad Gazdiev who was reporting from the Kabul Airport, “That the Russian Foreign Ministry even managed to clinch an agreement with the US to let Russian evac planes in, at such a hectic time, is nothing short of a diplomatic miracle.”
In truth, this was a “diplomatic miracle” in more ways than one. As he noted, Russia and the US clinched an agreement to allow the former’s planes to use that airport for evacuating its citizens and others. That’s a diplomatic accomplishment in and of itself and suggests that Washington had an interest in meeting Moscow’s needs during this time of crisis. It can’t be known for sure, but the US might be expecting something from Russia in return since it’s unlikely that its decision makers did this out of the kindness of their hearts. It’s quite possible that America expects Russia to continuing exerting positive influence on the Taliban in order to ensure that everything doesn’t spiral further out of control there upon its troops’ planned withdrawal by the end of this month.
This smoothly segues into the second “diplomatic miracle” which is the surprising closeness between Russia and the Taliban despite Moscow still formally designating the group as terrorists even though it also enjoys excellent political and security relations with it. I elaborated on this in my latest analysis for the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) titled “Russia & The Taliban: From Narrative Challenges To Opportunities” which should be reviewed by intrepid readers eager to learn more about this. To summarize, Russia effectively replicated the conflict resolution model that it experimented with in Syria after presciently foreseeing that the Taliban was an indispensable component of any peaceful political solution to the Afghan Civil War. This ultimately resulted in Russia having better ties with the Taliban than any other country apart from Pakistan.
It was due to these pragmatic relations that the Taliban didn’t interfere with Russia’s evacuation operation unlike what it’s reportedly done to undermine some other countries’ ones. Russia and the Taliban trust one another because they have shared security interests against ISIS-K and also aspire to stabilize Afghanistan in order for construction to begin on the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway that was agreed to in February and endorsed by Russia and other stakeholders during July’s regional connectivity conference in Tashkent. The US also intends to use PAKAFUZ, albeit to expand its economic influence northward, which could explain why it allowed Russia to use the Kabul Airport with the expectation that it’ll help stabilize the country via its ties with the Taliban and thus unlock this mutually beneficially opportunity.
All things considered, it was arguably the case that Russia’s Afghan evacuation operation went off without a hitch due to two “diplomatic miracles”: the US allowing Russia to use the Kabul Airport despite the political tensions between them and the Taliban not interfering with its citizens’ access to that departure point as well as that of the other foreign nationals that Moscow was responsible for rescuing. In hindsight, however, these weren’t so much “diplomatic miracles” like RT’s correspondent described them as but simply the natural outcome of Moscow’s masterful diplomacy in Afghanistan that was several years in the making. Most observers didn’t pay any attention to it because they were focused on more “newsworthy” conflicts at the time, but those who closely followed this dimension of Russia’s balancing act knew that it would reap tangible dividends.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Voice of East.