Alexandra Matas, Acting Head of Diplomatic Dialogue: Deputy Minister, thank you very much for agreeing to provide your insights for the GCSP audience today. We are honoured of having you visiting our centre. Your colleague, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was here a couple of weeks ago and he spoke on the topic of strategic stability and arms control. Today, I would like to discuss with you a different topic. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has direct implications for the neighbouring countries, for the countries in the region, and I would like to ask you today what would be the Russian perspective on the situation in connection to the Central Asian states?
Andrey Rudenko, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russian Federation: Ok, thank you. First of all, thank you very much for this chance to come here again and to speak on important issues. The situation, as you described, in Afghanistan has quite long-standing implications for the whole region and beyond. That's why we need thoroughly to analyse what's happened and maybe to make certain predictions for the future; how to address the new challenges.
On regional implications
The fall of the Republic and regime in Afghanistan and the rapid seizure of power became a serious destabilising factor not only for Afghanistan itself, but for the region as a whole. At present, the situation looks more or less stabilised, but the dynamics of its development is difficult to predict, and the possible projection onto Central Asia needs additional, as I said, deliberations. In particular, among new challenges and threats, which turn up is the flow of refugees from the territory of Afghanistan to neighbouring countries, while creating a certain pressure on their domestic situation. Terrorists and other destructive elements can also infiltrate their territory under the guise of the refugees. And in Russia we consider it's important the active efforts of the international community to facilitate the dignified, safe and sustainable return to their homeland.
On Russian interactions with the Taliban
Yes, we have contacts with the Taliban, and we use those established contacts encouraging the new authorities in Kabul to a responsible, civilised policy and in return to external player and civil population of their country. We note the efforts made by the new authorities aimed at stabilising the situation, first of all, political and the military situation and to a great extent there are certain achievements, at least the new interim government was formed, which recently included some representatives of ethnic minorities. It doesn't mean it becomes more inclusive, but still it's a good step. The Taliban also announced the intention to hold general elections and called exiled officials from the previous administration to return to the country. Work is underway to renew activities of government bodies to create an army. The functioning of the Kabul airport has been re-established. However, we are still not in a hurry with official recognition of the Taliban regime. We need to see how the promises made when they were coming to power are materialised on the ground. Unfortunately, there are still certain things which are not done, but we are undoubtedly interested in Afghanistan as an independent and, most importantly, peaceful country, a partner with whom one can negotiate.
On migration challenges
We proceed from the fact that at present, the issues of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and post-conflict rehabilitation and the reconstruction are coming to the fore. Taking into account the difficult socio-economic situation in the country and the risks of aggravating the migration situation in the region, even the large number of Afghans wishing to leave the country is necessary to prevent complications of the migration situation in the region, and we are not interested in the erosion of power in Afghanistan. This would create conditions for activation of extremist groups. We believe that the United States and its allies, which are responsible for their 20 years presence in the country, should bear the bulk of the corresponding costs of reconstruction. In a negative scenario, the development the country's social and economic problems will become even more aggravated.
On humanitarian assistance
According to the United Nations, today, half of the Afghans need humanitarian assistance just to survive. Every third person is deprived of stable access to food. It's projected that by 2022, more than half of children under the age of five will experience severe malnutrition. Access of the population to basic goods and services is decreasing on a daily basis, and this is against the backdrop of a record drought and an approaching winter.
On social and economic challenges
A lack of funds in the Treasury of Afghanistan is fraught with the collapse of the socio-economic environment, and it will be compensated by the growth of drug trafficking, of arms trade smuggling, because now the Taliban needs money at any cost and the West froze Afghan reserves in their banks. Together, we should curb these tendencies by working with the key stakeholders of the World Bank for a stage by stage un-freezing of the Afghan reserves and the restoration of progress through the World Bank and the IMF in order to make this process transparent. The option of establishing a country trust fund under the United Nations with the involvement of credible NGOs and UN partner organisations could be considered and we have such an experience in Yemen.
On the intra-Afghan settlement
Despite the radical political changes in the situation in Afghanistan, we believe that the mechanism of the expanded "troika", it's one of the negotiating formats in this country and the Moscow format, which also includes Kazakhstan, have not lost their relevance. In particular, its potential could be used to complete the process of intra-Afghan settlement and reconciliation and the creation of an inclusive government that reflects the interests of all ethno-political forces of the country. In the future, we plan to lead to the convening of an international donor conference under the auspices of the United Nations to assist in the post-conflict reconstruction of Afghanistan. We believe that the deployment of the military infrastructure of the United States and NATO, as well as the Afghans from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, cooperating with them on the territory of neighbouring countries, primarily in Central Asia, is unacceptable.
On the activities of the Islamic State in the region
The activities of Islamic State remained a significant deteriorating factor in the degradation of the situation in Afghanistan, and we need to avoid such a scenario. Moreover, the leadership of this group does not hide their plans to extend the influence to the Central Asian states and then to Russia. There is information about attempts to unite Russian speaking militants fighting in Afghanistan, including those who moved later from Syria and Iraq under the unified command of former members of the terrorist groups on the ground, operating in the Northern Caucus. At the same time, the leaders of terrorists are betting not so much on activity hostilities aggravation, but on crisis - social and economic crisis, which is dooming in Afghanistan and it could be caused in Central Asia.
On drug trafficking
The problem of drug production and smuggling remains extremely acute. Afghanistan remains the biggest supplier of opiates in the world. About 90 percent of the global market; more than two thirds of the Afghan provinces are drug producing. The efforts of the previous government were clearly not enough to counter this threat. Now let's see how the Taliban will do it, and they have a positive experience in the past, and we may see how they can cope with this threat now.
On the response of the international community
So, to conclude, you see how many challenges we now face. We, I mean, the international community. We, I mean, the neighbouring countries who surround this state. And of course, the response to these challenges could be only collective with participation of and coordination of the United Nations, of other international donors. But we do not have the right to leave this country alone, to leave this country isolated, to turn again back to the black hole where all risks and threats are emanating from. So, let's hope that in future, we manage to properly address those threats and see Afghanistan as I said, peaceful and prosperous. Thank you very much.
Alexandra Matas: Thank you. Thank you very much, Deputy Minister.