May 29, 2024 Special Dispatch No. 11363

Russia's Growing Cooperation With The Afghan Taliban

May 29, 2024
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 11363

On May 15, 2024, a delegation of the Taliban movement came to Tatarstan Republic (Russia) to participate in the "Russia - Islamic World: KazanForum."[1] This was not the first visit of the Taliban's representatives to Russia. They also took part in the KazanForum in May 2023; and a month later participated in an international forum of ministers of education. Despite clear attempts to intensify cooperation by both parties, the Taliban is still recognized as a terrorist movement in Russia. This uneasy situation has led to varying assessments among experts and the public, as well as to legal conundrums.

Nine days before the Taliban delegation landed in the capital of Tatarstan, Kazan, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow arrested journalist and writer Nadezhda Kevorkova, and accused her of justifying terrorism.[2] The journalist faces up to seven years in a penal colony under Article 205.2, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code. According to media reports, the prosecution argues that Kevorkova published a post in her Telegram channel which contained "signs of justification of the activities of members of the Taliban movement, recognized as terrorist and banned in Russia."[3] Indeed, the Taliban movement remains on the list of terrorist organizations, managed by the Federal Security Service (FSB),  after a ruling of the High Court of Russia on February 2, 2003, which designated the Taliban as a terrorist group.[4]

A screenshot from the official Telegram channel of the Courts of General Jurisdiction of the City of Moscow, showing journalist Nadezhda Kevorkova in a special room for the defendants during the pre-trial hearings of her case at the Basmanny Court of Moscow.[5]

Despite their designated status, the Taliban representatives themselves did not face any legal issues in Tatarstan's capital (except for a flight delay due to a Ukrainian drone threat).[6] They enjoyed the city for several days, and participated in various roundtable discussions. The panels mainly focused on economic issues, Islamic banking, trade routes and logistics, tourism, and even halal food products. One of the Taliban delegates to the forum, Nooruddin Azizi, the acting minister of Industry and Commerce, praised the new chapter in Russo-Afghan relations, stating: "We will not talk about what was [between our countries] in the past. We are glad that the relations between Afghanistan and Russia, with the help of the Republic of Tatarstan, are starting again. And we are proud that there are many similarities between Afghanistan and Tatarstan."

It was reported[7] that the movement was invited by the head of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov. It seems that the choice of the Tatar official was not accidental, as the ethnic group of Afghan Tatars, with roots in Russia, numbers about three million people in Afghanistan.[8] According to some reports, the Tatar diaspora exerts a strong influence in the northern provinces of the country.[9] Previously, the head of Tatarstan, following instructions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, headed the Russian delegation at the XV Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in the Republic of the Gambia.[10]

The Taliban delegation to the "Russia - Islamic World: KazanForum" poses for a photo. (Source: Baza Telegram channel.)[11] Not all members of the delegation are pictured; the delegation included the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amir Khan Muttaqi; the acting minister of Industry and Commerce, Nooruddin Azizi; the acting minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, Hamidullah Akhundzada; the head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mohammad Yusuf Mohmand; President of the Association of Industrialists and Mines, Kaminzada Shir Baz; President of Parwiz Ghafari Construction Mohammad, Parviz Ghafari; and Head of the Russian Business Center, Khabibullin Rustam.

Moscow and Kabul are seeking to intensify their cooperation. The head of the Russian Business Center in Afghanistan, Rustam Khabibullin, stated to a Russian media outlet, RIA Novosti, that trade between Russia and Afghanistan, which amounted to $170 million in 2022, has grown to exceed one billion dollars. He attributed this to "the flight of US and NATO forces [from the region], which in every possible way hindered the active development of economic and political relations between the two countries." [12] It seems that energy resources and agricultural products (Russia generally exports flour, wheat, and sunflower oil) account for the lion's share of the two countries' trade. During a discussion forum, Nooruddin Azizi explained that Afghanistan signs short-term contracts with Russian companies for the supply of petroleum products and crude oil: "for example, the contracts [on supplies of petroleum products] can be concluded for six months, three months, or four… in terms of volumes supplied, [it could be], say, ten thousand tons, fifty thousand tons."[13] Upon completion, the contracts are usually renewed.

Afghanistan also seeks to participate in other Moscow initiatives, such as the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC). The Kremlin aims to invest in the Afghan economy; Moscow is particularly interested in the construction of the Kush-Tape water canal.[14] In 2023, under the auspices of the Kazan Muslim Charitable Patriotic Foundation, a Russian business center was opened in Kabul.[15] During the forum, Nooruddin Azizi proposed to open an Afghan business center in Moscow.[16]

The Kremlin seems to want to promote its policies and economic projects using "Muslim diplomacy," exploiting Tatarstan's ties with predominately Muslim populated countries for Russia's benefit. During the forum, the Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia and the Council of Muftis, Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, praised this aspect of Russian policy: "The Russian Federation has never pursued a colonial policy in the Middle East, has never pitted peoples against each other, has never tried to 'squeeze' all resources out of these territories for nothing. Moscow invites the leaders of Middle Eastern states, at various levels, to jointly oppose provocations so that long-awaited peace and security can prevail in the region." At the same time, he condemned the West and Israel's policies in the region.[17] In his speech, Gainutdin also assessed infrastructure and economic projects of Russian authorities – in particular, the "North–South" corridor (INSTC).

A meeting of the management of Kazan Charitable Patriotic Foundation of Muslims of Russia: Rustam Habibullin stands with the UAE Trade Representative in Afghanistan, Zalmay Saber. (Source: Tatar-inform media).[18]

Amid growing cooperation between Russia and Afghanistan, talks have emerged about removing the Taliban's terrorist status.[19] The Russian Foreign Ministry is reportedly working on the issue, but the Taliban remains on the FSB designated list. Recently, however, the director of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, noted positive trends in Afghanistan, stating: "The Afghan authorities are actively working to normalize the [security] situation, fighting odious terrorist groups and seeking to strengthen external borders in order to reduce the infiltration of militants of international terrorist organizations from regional conflict zones. They [the Taliban] are engaged in dialogue with us (...) And if Kabul is not hindered by external players, the Taliban, I believe, will be able to restore order in [their] home."[20] This may signal a change in the Russian authorities' ambivalent attitude towards the Taliban.

There are various assessments of the prospects of Taliban losing its terrorist status. The Russian "Military Review" magazine argued that the Kremlin would have to work with authorities in Afghanistan due to its strategic importance. Additionally, according to a Russian official: "Russia's demonstrative defiance of the Afghan regime will inevitably alienate the Taliban (…) If we do not invite them to Kazan, they could get offended and turn to Washington." [21]

Others voice concerns. For instance, the conservative O.K.O. Telegram channel claims that the Taliban regime is Russophobic in nature. Perhaps recalling Russia's occupation of Afghanistan, from 1979-1989, the channel quoted the following lines from the national anthem of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (2004-2021): "Once freed from the English, a grave of Russians we've become. This is the home of the brave, this is the home of the brave. Look at these many skulls, that's what was left by the Russian. Every foe hath failed, all their hopes shattered."[22]


[1] Title quote by Acting Minister of Industry and Commerce of Afghanistan, Nooruddin Azizi during his speech at the "KazanForum" ( )

[2] Arrest is the toughest possible pre-trial measure for defendants, prescribed by the Russian Criminal Procedure Code.

[3] See;




[7] See, e.g.,;

[8] The estimates of Afghan Tatars populations vary; the data quoted is based on the head of the Executive Committee of the World Tatar Congress, Danis Shakirov,

[9] See There are also opposing views, arguing that despite growing trade turnover, the situation of Afghan Tatars worsened in 2023:














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