Why Russia is engaging with the Taliban: To build a consensus that excludes the U.S.

The United States has refused to participate in these talks because of its reluctance to engage diplomatically with the Taliban. However, the expansion of these talks from a three-nation summit with Russia, China and Pakistan in December 2016 to an 11-nation gathering, involving Central Asian states, Iran, India and Afghan representatives in April 2017, suggests that Moscow’s selective engagement strategy with the Taliban is gaining traction.

European leaders are reluctant to admit to diplomatic dialogue with the Taliban, but pro-Russian Afghan politicians have drawn attention to synergies between European and Russian engagement strategies with the Taliban. Kremlin-aligned former Afghan president Hamid Karzai announced in April 2017 that Norway and Germany have a long history of holding talks with the Taliban, and argued that Western criticism of Russia’s Taliban links constitutes a double standard.

Pakistan has urged the United States to cooperate with Russia’s Taliban engagement efforts, while India has sought to bridge the gap between U.S. and Russian positions on Afghanistan. Russian policymakers are hoping that the growing popularity of its selective engagement strategy with the Taliban will prompt the United States to change its position on diplomacy with the Islamic extremist group.