Afghanistan–Russia relations

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Afghanistan–Russia relations
Map indicating locations of Afghanistan and Russia


Diplomatic Mission
Afghani Embassy, Moscow Russian Embassy, Kabul
Afghan embassy in Moscow, Russia.
Russian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan–Russia relations (Russian: Российско-афганские отношения) refers to the relations between the nations of Afghanistan and Russia. The Great Game is the story of Russian-British confrontations over Afghanistan since 1840.[1]

Relations were contentious when Soviet Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, precipitating a negative reaction in much of the Muslim world and creating a chain of events which would bring Afghanistan in the disastrous situation it finds itself now. However, Russo-Afghan relations have somewhat improved in the years following the conflict, and Russia now has an embassy in Kabul and a consulate-general in Mazar-e-Sharif, and Afghanistan has an embassy in Moscow.

Historical relations[edit]

Czarist Russia first established diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in 1837 at a time of strained diplomatic relations between Britain and Russia.[2] This initial contact was viewed with suspicion by the British Empire which suspected Russia of attempting to expand its territory into the Indian subcontinent. Imperial Russia desired a direct trading route with India and Russia's initial contact with the Afghan government and the Russian government's aid to the Iranian ruler Mohammad Shah Qajar who unsuccessfully attempted to conquer Herat in 1838 was followed by the British invasion of Afghanistan during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42).

Following the war Russia steadily advanced across Central Asia conquering Tashkent in 1865, Samarkand in 1868, Khokand in 1868 and Khiva in 1873. Britain suggested Afghanistan as a buffer state but following the June 1878 Congress of Berlin, Russia sent a diplomatic mission to Kabul. Sher Ali Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan, tried unsuccessfully to keep them out but Russian envoys arrived in Kabul on 22 July 1878, and on 14 August, the British demanded that Sher Ali accept a British mission too.[3] The incidents resulted in the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

The Panjdeh incident of 1885 was the next major diplomatic chapter in the history of Afghan-Russian relations. Once again, British-Russian rivalry boiled over after Russia seized several oases from Afghanistan. The British threatened war an agreement in 1887 which established a buffer zone in Central Asia with Russia thereby winning British acceptance of its expansionism.[4]

The 1916 anti-Russian rioting in Turkistan led to the Basmachi movement which received some support from the Afghan government. The Basachi rebels used parts of Afghanistan as a safe haven but following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 Lenin and other communist party leaders made efforts to gain support from minorities including the considerable Muslim population of their country.[5] In the wake of World War I, the Bolsheviks were occupied with the Russian Civil War and other domestic issues so the perceved threat of Russia was lessened compared to that of British Imperialism. In 1919, the British invaded for a third time during the Third Anglo-Afghan war and Soviet Russia indirectly supported Afghanistan by becoming the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in 1919 and by recognizing its borders.[6] A British attempt to assassinate the Afghan premier, Amanullah Khan, in June 1920 led to Afghanistan quickly signing a draft of an Afghan-Soviet nonaggression pact which was formalized in 1921. The treaty provided for Afghan transit rights through the Soviet Union and formed the basis of friendly relations during the 1920s. Early Soviet assistance included financial aid, aircraft and attendant technical personnel, and telegraph operators. During Amanullah Khan's visit to Moscow in 1928 he was greeted as a close friend of the still diplomatically isolated Soviet Union.

A group of Afghan and Soviet people in Moscow, c. 1991.

The Cold War spanned from the 1950s to the 1990s and was full of conflict between America and Russia. The main superpowers waged war through proxies, or super allies, because any direct conflict with each other could result in nuclear war. The Cold War shaped the Russian mindset with regards to developing countries.

At the beginning of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1953, the Soviet government had three main objectives. The first was to threaten the Iranian oilfields or put themselves in a position to do so in the coming years. The second goal was to strengthen influence in the Indian Peninsula. The last goal was divert western weapons to areas unproductive areas. All of these goals were aimed at long term gains.

Leading up to the Soviet intervention, Afghanistan’s policy was that of non-alignment, meaning they did not want a superpower ally. Even though they did not want to align themselves with any superpower, the Afghanistan government still retained good terms with both America and the Soviet Union. In 1958, Afghanistan’s prime minister Daud Khan tried to create a treaty with America against the Soviet Union because he was frightened of a potential Soviet invasion and because he needed modern weapons. After the Americans turned down the Afghanistan government, Afghanistan asked U.S.S.R. for aid in 1956. With this agreement, the Soviet Union provided financial aid, military personal training, and modern weapons, such as AK-47s and rocket launchers. Daud Khan was forced to resign in 1963 because of the dependence that he had created on the Soviet Union. After his brief resignation from office, Daud led a coup that toppled the Soviet’s puppet regime in Afghanistan which brought him back into power. To counteract his previous mishaps, Daud led Afghanistan back towards independence and non-alignment. Additionally, Daud sent troops as well as diplomats to surrounding nations to build up foreign relations, and decrease Afghanistan’s dependence on the Soviet Union.

There were four main motivations for the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in 1979. First, the Soviets strategic importance of Afghanistan for security measures. Throughout Russian history, Russia has always been wary of neighboring countries and keeps their borders safe through expansion, or obtaining buffer states. The second reason was, the possibility of disrupting anti-Soviet nations, such as America and China. The third reason for invasion was to spread Marxist–Leninist revolutionary ideals. Lastly, the Soviets invaded for raw materials and inexpensive manufactured goods. These factors led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Around this time, the Soviets were also having success in other Middle Eastern areas, such as the Horn of Arabia and in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. The Soviet Union took almost universal condemnation after this invasion.[7]

The Soviets began a major economic assistance program in Afghanistan in the 1950s. Between 1954 and 1978, Afghanistan received more than $1 billion in Soviet aid, including substantial military assistance. In 1973, the two countries announced a $200-million assistance agreement on gas and oil development, trade, transport, irrigation, and factory construction. Following the 1979 invasion, the Soviets augmented their large aid commitments to shore up the Afghan economy and rebuild the Afghan military. They provided the Karmal regime an unprecedented $800 million. The Soviet Union supported the Najibullah regime even after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in February 1989. Today, unresolved questions concerning Soviet MIA/POWs in Afghanistan remain an issue between Russia and Afghanistan.

In 1993, Tajik rebels based in Afghanistan attacked a Russian border outpost in Tajikistan, killing 25 Russians and prompting Russian retaliatory strikes, which caused extensive damage in northern Afghanistan. Reports of Afghan support for the Tajik rebels led to cool relations between the two countries.

Russia became increasingly disenchanted with the Taliban over their support for Chechen rebels and for providing a sanctuary for terrorist groups active in Central Asia and in Russia itself. Russia provided military assistance to the Northern Alliance, who eventually proved a major force in the efforts to overthrow the Taliban regime following US intervention in 2001.

In October 2005, Russian defense officials stated they will be giving helicopters and other military equipment to Afghanistan's army worth $30 million USD.[8]

In October 2010, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai reprimanded Russia after its forces entered the country without permission. He also stated that Russia has "violated Afghan sovereignty" in a joint mission with United States agents.[9]


  1. ^ Rodric Braithwaite, . "The Russians in Afghanistan." Asian Affairs 42.2 (2011): 213-229 summarizes the long history.
  2. ^ The Soviet Union and the Muslim World 1917-1958, Ivar Spector, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1959
  3. ^ Barthorp, Michael (2002) [1982]. Afghan Wars and the North-West Frontier 1839–1947. London: Cassell. pp. 66–67. ISBN 0-304-36294-8. 
  4. ^ Raymond Mohl, "Confrontation in Central Asia" History Today 19 (1969) 176-183
  5. ^ The Soviet Union and the Muslim World 1917-1958, Ivar Spector, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1959
  6. ^ Amin Saikal, Ravan Farhadi, Kirill Nourzhanov. Modern Afghanistan: a history of struggle and survival. I.B.Tauris, 2006. ISBN 1-84511-316-0, ISBN 978-1-84511-316-2. Pg 64
  7. ^ Garg, J. P.. 1981. “RUSSIAN PENETRATION IN THIRD WORLD WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO AFGHANISTAN”. The Indian Journal of Political Science 42 (4). Indian Political Science Association: 72–84.
  8. ^ "Tourists flee devastated flood area". Chicago Tribune. 10 October 2005. Retrieved 27 December 2014. Russia will supply Afghanistan's fledgling army with helicopters and equipment worth $30 million 
  9. ^ Los Angeles Times - Karzai denounces drug raid in Afghanistan

Further reading[edit]

  • * Adamec, Ludwig W. Afghanistan's foreign affairs to the mid-twentieth century: relations with the USSR, Germany, and Britain (University of Arizona Press, 1974).
  • Braithwaite, Rodric. "The Russians in Afghanistan." Asian Affairs 42.2 (2011): 213-229 summarizes the long history.
  • Braithwaite, Rodric. Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 (Oxford University Press, 2013).
  • Girardet, Ed. Afghanistan: The Soviet War (Routledge, 2012).
  • Hopkirk, Peter. The great game: The struggle for empire in Central Asia (Kodansha Globe, 1994).
  • McCauley, Martin. Afghanistan and central Asia: A modern history (Routledge, 2016).