While international attention has focused on Russian military operations in Ukraine and Syria, Moscow has also been involved in a flurry of diplomatic and security initiatives to address the growing instability in northern Afghanistan.
But its moves to bolster regional security are more than just a response to local security concerns. Russia has a broader strategy that could leave it as the dominant security actor across much of Eurasia.
Even before the shock of the Taliban occupation of Kunduz in late September, Russian officials were concerned about the fragile security situation in northern Afghanistan, including the rise of Islamic State in northern Afghanistan and its potential spread to Central Asia and thence to Russia’s large Muslim community. As if to emphasise the domestic threat, on October 12 Russian police announced that they had uncovered a terrorist plot in Moscow apparently involving a group of Central Asian militants.
Insecurity in Afghanistan may pose a potential security threat for Moscow, but it is being seized upon as a major geopolitical opportunity. Against a backdrop of failed Western policies across much of Russia’s southern flank, Moscow is moving quickly to fill a security vacuum in the region. It is strengthening existing alliances to consolidate its hold over former Soviet republics in Central Asia and reshaping the security dynamics of the region around its own favoured security groupings – the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
The first step has been a series of meeting with Central Asian leaders, all on the front line in case of renewed Afghan insecurity. A meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Emomali Rakhmon, the president of Tajikistan, led to promises of more attack helicopters to bolster the existing Russian military based in the country, which has become the hub of a well-developed defence system against cross-border infiltration.