Taliban visit Moscow to say their wins don’t threaten Russia

MOSCOW (AP) — A delegation of the Taliban visited Moscow on Thursday to offer assurances that their quick gains on the ground in Afghanistan do not threaten Russia or its allies in Central Asia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the Kremlin envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, met with the Taliban delegation to express concern about the escalation and tensions in northern Afghanistan. The ministry said Kabulov urged the Taliban “to prevent them from spreading beyond the country’s borders.”

“We received assurances from the Taliban that they wouldn’t violate the borders of Central Asian countries and also their guarantees of security for foreign diplomatic and consular missions in Afghanistan,” the ministry said.

Earlier this week, Taliban advances forced hundreds of Afghan soldiers to flee across the border into Tajikistan, which hosts a Russian military base. Tajikistan in turn called up 20,000 military reservists to strengthen its southern border with Afghanistan.

Russian officials have expressed concern that the Taliban surge could destabilize the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations north of Afghanistan.

In comments carried by the Russian state Tass news agency, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Sohail Shaheen said their delegation came to Moscow to “assure that we won’t allow anyone to use the Afghan territory to attack Russia or neighboring countries.”

“We have very good relations with Russia,” he was quoted by Tass as saying, adding that the insurgents remain committed to a peaceful political settlement in Afghanistan.

Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator, reaching out to feuding Afghan factions as it has jockeyed with the U.S. for influence in the country.

It has hosted several rounds of talks on Afghanistan, most recently in March, that involved the Taliban — even though Russia has labeled them a terrorist organization.

Russia this week expressed readiness to support Central Asian nations that are part of the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization.

“We will do everything, including using the capacity of the Russian military base on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan, in order to prevent any aggressive moves against our allies,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Wednesday.

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