Indeed, war and political circumstances can make you sleep with your enemy, and despite different ideologies, they can also make opponents strange bedfellows.
As per reports in the British media, Russia is eyeing weapons left by the hastily-withdrawing US forces in Afghanistan in 2021. To secure these arms, Russian diplomats are reportedly wooing the Taliban elements of the caretaker government in Afghanistan.
British tabloid The Sun reported last week, citing a Telegram channel ‘Kremlin Insider’, that Russia is seeking weapons from Afghanistan, including those left behind by the US forces in 2021. Though Moscow has denied these claims, Ukrainian and Western officials said Russia is facing a shortage of arms.
Reports claimed that amid planning for an expected spring offensive, Russia has reportedly turned to the Taliban government in Afghanistan for weapons.
As per a US Department of Defence report, the American troops had left more than $7 billion worth of weapons and equipment when it pulled out of Afghanistan, CNN reported.
US arms for Russia
The Sun, citing a Telegram channel, ‘General SVR’, reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked the Taliban for equipment left by the US. The General SVR channel claimed, citing the Kremlin Insider, that in exchange for arms, Putin will “recognise” the Taliban government.
“Putin is overseeing negotiations with the Taliban to recognise the Taliban government. In return, the Russian leadership is offering a major arms and military equipment swap,” General SVR claimed, The Sun reported.
General SVR further stated that those aware of the negotiations say that the Taliban are “extremely surprised” by such proposals, however, they are discussing them in “earnest”.
This claim comes amid other conflicting reports claiming that Russia and Pakistan are stressing on the need for “practical engagement” with the Taliban. Some claim that Russia is considering recognising the Taliban government while others claim that it is not considering such a proposal for the time being.
If indeed these reports are true, then it may come as a shot in the arm for the Taliban, as finally they’ll be able to get at least one former super power to recognise them and additionally they also might get some financial package from the Russians, money which is desperately needed by the Taliban government to function properly.
Reportedly, the Russian presidential envoy for Afghanistan – Zamir Kabulov – met with Pakistani officials in Islamabad on January 25 and apprised them about his meetings with the Taliban in Kabul earlier this month.
Official Pakistani sources in the know of the meeting told Voice of America (VOA) that Kabulov said Russia will continue to engage with the Taliban, but it is not considering granting formal recognition to the rulers “for the time being”.
The Russian envoy “advised” the all-male Taliban to create a “politically inclusive” government and ease restrictions on women in order to move forward on the issue of their legitimacy, VOA reported citing sources.
US weapons in Afghanistan
As the US troops withdrew from Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 2021, 70 per cent of American weapons as well as $48 million worth of ammunition provided to the Afghan forces were left in the war-torn country, Foreign Policy had reported in April last year.
The military equipment included 23,825 Humvees and around 900 combat vehicles. As many as 42,000 pieces of night vision, surveillance, biometric and positioning equipment were also left behind in Afghanistan, as per the report.
The officials familiar with the defence department report had said that it was unlikely for the Taliban to use the US weapons, which require technical support and specialised maintenance. But they had also expressed concerns about the Taliban fighters using small arms, including automatic rifles.
The big question is whether Russia is actually short of weapons. No, claims former Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, the newly-appointed head of the military-industrial commission that is monitoring weapons production for the war.
Hitting out at Western media reports that Russia is facing a paucity of missiles and artillery, Medvedev had said last week that Moscow’s weapons stocks are adequate to continue the fight in Ukraine.
A video posted on the former President’s Telegram channel showed him taking a stock of Kalashnikov rifles, artillery shells, missiles and drones. Russian troops have also deployed Iran-made ‘kamikaze’ drones for their attacks in Ukraine.
Despite Russia’s denial, Ukrainian and Western military officials have claimed that Russia is facing a crunch of arms.
In December last year, Britain’s armed forces chief – Admiral Sir Tony Radakin – had said that Russia had planned for a “30-day war” and is now facing a “critical shortage” of artillery shells.
The Guardian had reported him as saying that Russia faces a critical shortage of artillery munitions. This means that their ability to conduct successful offensive ground operations is rapidly diminishing.
When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February last year, it was planned to be a blitzkrieg-like operation that would sweep the capital Kiev. However, the fierce resistance by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) pushed the Russian troops to the fringes and made it a war of attrition that will complete a year next month.
The war has essentially proved to be a double whammy for Russia. Not only has the country lost a massive number of men and materials, Moscow has also been unable to manufacture weapons at pre-war levels due to crippling sanctions.
Going by the daily estimates published by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence, Russia has so far lost more than 3,100 tanks, over 6,300 armoured vehicles, more than 2,100 artillery, over 1,900 drones, and almost 300 military jets, to name a few.
Meanwhile, there are also reports that NATO is going to supply Ukraine with more superior tanks to counter the hotly-predicted pre-spring Russian offensive. -IANS
(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at www.asadmirza.in. The views expressed are personal)