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The Russian Embassy In Kabul Is Now Under Protection Of The Taliban


With the U.S. racing to evacuate diplomats and allies from Afghanistan, Russia is taking a certain satisfaction in what it sees as a major setback for U.S. leaders. But as Charles Maynes reports, the old warning be careful what you wish for very much applies.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Amid the chaotic evacuation of the U.S. Embassy and scenes of desperation at Kabul airport, the Kremlin special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said Russia had a different story to tell. Its consulate in Kabul will not only remain open. It's under Taliban protection now that the government has collapsed.


ZAMIR KABULOV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "They just cut and run at the first shot," Kabulov said in an interview with Echo of Moscow radio. He said Russia expected more from troops trained by the U.S. and NATO. Yet analysts say any Kremlin satisfaction over the U.S. exit is qualified by grave concerns about events unfolding.

PAVEL FELGENHAUER: It's good that the Americans are out, and it's bad that the Americans are out at the same time.

MAYNES: Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based military analyst with the independent Novaya Gazeta weekly - he says the Kremlin is deeply worried that political turmoil in Afghanistan could spill over into former Soviet republics in Central Asia, a region traditionally under Moscow's sway.

FELGENHAUER: It's an opportunity. At the same time, it's a very grave threat to vital Russian interests.

MAYNES: Indeed, longtime regional observers say the presence of U.S. forces provided security for Moscow on the cheap. The prospect of tens of thousands of refugees now streaming across the Afghan border is not only real. They say it risks destabilizing countries like Tajikistan with its weak, autocratic government, poverty and corruption.

ALEXEY MALASHENKO: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "We don't know what ideas these Afghans in Tajikistan will bring with them, but extremists are certainly among their ranks," says Alexey Malashenko of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations. How many? No one knows. But it will influence domestic affairs without question. And now imagine they end up in the Russian homeland in Siberia.


MAYNES: Last June, skirmishes between Afghan government forces and Taliban fighters drove hundreds fleeing into neighboring Tajikistan. During talks between Russian officials and Taliban representatives days later, the Taliban's Shahabuddin Delwar promised to keep the border secure.


SHAHABUDDIN DELWAR: We would not allow anyone, any individual, any entity to use the side of Afghanistan against the neighboring country.

MAYNES: Yet the Kremlin is taking few chances.


MAYNES: Last week, it deployed Russian tanks and troops alongside Tajik forces for military exercises along the Afghan border. Again, military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer.

FELGENHAUER: Russia has lots to lose. America can walk away from Afghanistan and forget it as a bad dream. They have that privilege. Russia cannot.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: These sounds from 1989 of Soviet troops withdrawing after their defeat in Afghanistan still haunt Russians. Few think the Kremlin is eager to engage again militarily.

MALASHENKO: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "The only way Russia would reenter Afghanistan is if you take a shovel and dig up Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev by the Kremlin walls," says analyst Malashenko. Say what you will about President Putin and his team, but they're not crazy. Yet Kremlin officials are also pushing back against comparisons between the Soviet defeat and the unfolding chaos following the American exit from Afghanistan.


KABULOV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: In his radio interview, Kremlin envoy Zamir Kabulov dismissed what he said were American press efforts equating the two wars. The U.S.-Afghan government lasted less than a year, corrected Kabulov. Ours made it a full three.


KABULOV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: For NPR News, I'm Charles Maynes in Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIEN MARCHAL'S "INSIGHT I") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.