Russia weighs delisting Taliban in bid to build ties with Kabul rulers

The deliberations, revealed by a top Russian diplomat, reflect the increasingly pragmatic relations between Russia and the Taliban since the militants seized power in Kabul in August 2021 after two decades of war against U.S.-led NATO forces.

Senior Russian officials say they have recommended President Vladimir Putin remove the Taliban militant group from Moscow’s official list of terrorist organizations as Russia moves to further build relations with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

The deliberations, revealed by a top Russian diplomat, reflect the increasingly pragmatic relations between Russia and the Taliban since the militants seized power in Kabul in August 2021 after two decades of war against U.S.-led NATO forces.

The Russian government designated the Taliban as a terrorist group in 2003 due to its links to al-Qaida and other militant groups fighting in regions such as Chechnya. But Moscow has moved quickly to cultivate ties with the Taliban since its takeover of Afghanistan amid the chaotic U.S. withdrawal.

Zamir Kabulov, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department, told the state TASS news agency on Thursday that both his ministry and the Justice Ministry have recommended removing the Taliban from Russia’s list of banned terrorist groups now that they control Afghanistan.

Putin has not yet signed off on the move, which Kabulov said was a necessary step before any consideration of formally recognizing the Taliban government. But he indicated it could be coming soon.

For Russia, moving to accept the Taliban as legitimate rulers opens up potential economic and strategic opportunities in Afghanistan. Moscow has shown increasing agility in its diplomacy as it squared off against the West over the war in Ukraine.

Russia is looking to exert influence in Central Asia and push back against any potential security threats flowing from Afghanistan’s long-running instability and conflict. Officials from Russia, China and seven other nations bordering Afghanistan held talks with the Taliban in Russia in July.

The Taliban banned al-Qaida operations in Afghanistan following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion but made allowances for its former allies to remain in the country. Russia was concerned that Taliban control could breed a new generation of battle-hardened militants who export trouble to Central Asia and into Russia itself.