12-13 February 2018, EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan Roland Kobia visits Russia

RESTREINT UE/EU RESTRICTED FM EAS COREU TO ALL COREU URGENT CFSP/EAS/0172/18 160218 1731Z ACRONYM COASI SUBJECT COASI – EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan Roland Kobia visits Russia, 12-13 February 2018 TEXT
Subject: COASI – EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan Roland Kobia visits Russia, 12-13 February 2018 The EEAS is pleased to circulate the following report:

Upon the invitation of President Putin’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Ambassador Zamir Kabulov (22.06.1954), EUSE Roland Kobia (1965) visited Moscow on 12-13 February 2018 to hold talks on Afghanistan with Amb.Kabulov and other interlocutors in the MFA (notably the “CIS” and “Threats-New Challenges” departments), the Russian Academy of Sciences, diplomats and analysts.

While the EU-Russia relations are complicated and framed by the Minsk umbrella, the mood was cordial and Russian interlocutors were rather open in their willingness to discuss possible enhanced cooperation on a number of issues of shared interest for the regional support of peace efforts in Afghanistan: notably counter-terrorism, fight against drugs, and radicalisation. It was agreed to continue consultations with a view to further identify concrete initiatives in these areas.


Russia sees Afghanistan and the region essentially through the security prism. The efforts of Western and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan are perceived as either “wrong timing” or “with the wrong partners”. There was a flavour of “anti-­positioning”, but less of constructive proposals. In spite of a wider political context that makes the bilateral relationship difficult, it is useful to continue engaging as the potential for further cooperation exists in view of the magnitude and seriousness of the common challenges affecting both Europe and Russia. On the constructive side, Russia sees scope for talks with Taliban, organised in Russia, in view of a political and reconciliation process. EU is asked to convince the Afghan government on engaging with all parties to the conflict.

Key EU messages delivered:

  • The EU believes that channels of communication and dialogue must remain open with the various constituencies in and around Afghanistan
  • EU and Russia could cooperate more constructively in support of the regional efforts of peace in Afghanistan on the basis of mutual interests to combat terrorism, extremism and to fight illegal trafficking of drugs.
  • We believe there is no military solution to the conflict. While military operations go on, all efforts should be mobilised to create the framework for progress on a political negotiated settlement.
  • EU hopes that the upcoming Kabul process meeting on 28 Feb could send a signal for dialogue, and pave the way for a concrete peace roadmap.
  • Central Asia has a focal role to play in regional stabilisation. EU will integrate this element into the new Central Asia strategy.


  1. US policy: as expected, Russia was rather critical towards the US policy in Afghanistan. US seen as playing India off against Pakistan. RU believes that if the US wanted to win the war and leave, they would have trained the antiВ­guerrilla forces 17 years ago. US also suspected of supporting -or at least to close eyes on- Daesh to promote their geoВ­strategic interest in the region (the issue of unidentified helicopters delivering arms to Daesh and the question marks around the US forces targeting the Taleban and much less so the Daesh and “narco” positions).
  2. EU role: RU sees the EU role as a mediator between the AFG government and other stakeholders. RU would like the EU to put an effort in convincing the AFG government and the US to engage with other parties to the conflict and to talks with Taleban (official talks): “you can’t change the Taleban, but you can change the approach of the government.” RU believes that the current US policy of cutting off dialogue will lead nowhere. RU finds the US strategy “unproductive” and the EU strategy “more comprehensive”.
  3. Central Asia is recognised as an increasingly important actor for Afghanistan, but one on which RU has claims of influence. CA is a “national security issue” for Russia. Existing lack of social perspectives increases the risk of Islamisation in CA. RU military bases in KYZ and TAJ considered as the last resort defence line against a potential incursion of Daesh. At the same time, RU has to deal with the suspicion of some CA governments of their “former big brother” plotting something behind the threat of Daesh, and willing to put more boots on central Asian ground. Turkmenistan is seen as the most difficult partner, and supporting the drug business of Taleban. Improvements of Turkmen-Afghan border management observed thanks to TKM cooperation with Iran. Uzbekistan seems to nurture excellent relations with RU.
  4. Daesh/ISIS: increasing presence in Badakhshan (North East Afghanistan), including FTF’s from Syria/Iraq, aiming for Velayate Khorassan. No agreement on the number of fighters, some claiming 7000 active fighters and 3000 reservists (dormant), others estimate around 300 foreign ISIS fighters (concentrated in Badakshan). RU sees a political / security interest in inflated numbers. Many of Daesh are local Afghans (mostly present in Nangarhar), employed to fight, Daesh paying better than the Taleban. Daesh failed to take over the drug laboratories from the Taleban. The current strategy of Daesh is to wait for the Taleban getting weaker by fighting the AFG government forces. Russia appeals to the EU to pay more attention to Northern Afghanistan.
  5. Taleban: RU believes that those in the EU who talk to the Taliban are talking to the “wrong people” as they represent a fraction of the movement. The key is to talk to the right interlocutors. Some groups refuse to talk to AFG government, as they fear being attacked by other Taleban groups for talking to “the puppet government”. Taliban want to negotiate with the international stakeholders before talking to AFG government. RU still convinced of being able to organise talks between the US and the right Taleban interlocutors. Haqqani has a leading role and there is a network of around 12 field commanders that cooperate with each other, but they are not united in their vision for peace.
  6. Pakistan: the land is split between the fractions that want peace and those who don’t. The conflict in a way justifies the existence of the militaries. In addition, some groups favour Saudi support, others are more cautious due to a large Shia population of Pakistan. Chinese will ask for PAK security guarantees for the CPEC (as they did in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan), but PAK will prefer to safeguard their relations with the West.
  7. Counter-narcotics: openness to cooperate on the issue, while admitting that the silver bullets have not yet been found. RU sees no political will from Afghan government to fight drugs. According to RU, drugs business creates 40% of the national GDP in AFG and makes up to 60% of the Taleban income (the rest coming from “sponsors”, kidnappings and taxes). RU very pessimistic about the possible ways to fight drugs, and yet very supportive of increased cooperation with the EU on that, through a holistic approach. UNODC and OSCE are the preferred platforms for RU engagement. CSTO mentioned as an effective mechanism.RU will continue supporting the Paris Pact, despite of it currently being in a “sleeping stage”. In cooperation with Japan, RU conducts trainings for drug enforcement officers. RU also supports alternative development programs in Badakhshan.

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