Russia Calls on US To Release Afghanistan's Bank Reserves

More than $9 billion could go to Taliban

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Russia's Special Representative on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov attend a press briefing following an international conference on Afghanistan over the peaceful solution to the conflict in Moscow on March 18, 2021. / Getty Images
August 30, 2021

A Russian official pressed the United States to release billions of dollars from the Afghanistan central bank's reserves, a move that could aid the Taliban.

Kremlin envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov challenged the United States and its allies to lift restrictions on the nation’s leading financial institution, which has more than $9 billion in reserves. U.S. officials froze access to the bank's reserves held in U.S. institutions in mid-August. Kabulov also said Moscow is vying to keep normalized relations with the Taliban.

"If our Western colleagues are actually worried about the fate of the Afghan people, then we must not create additional problems for them by freezing gold and foreign exchange reserves," Kabulov said. "We are already building [ties with the Taliban], our embassy in Kabul is working, and quite actively.... We need to maintain normal relations with any government in Afghanistan."

Taliban officials on Aug. 23 appointed a new bank governor, who is considered a loyalist to the terrorist group. Republican lawmakers expressed concern to the Washington Free Beacon that the group could seize enormous financial assets from the bank, enriching its regime and allowing its rule to grow over the war-torn nation.

The move may also reveal a broader strategy from Russia to destabilize the American exit from Afghanistan. Russia has kept working relations with the Taliban even as the Kremlin arms its allies in neighboring countries. Richard Fontaine, the CEO of the Center for a New American Security and a member of the Vandenberg Coalition’s advisory board, told the Free Beacon Russia has a major interest in forcing the United States to "bleed out" of Afghanistan through a bitter withdrawal.

"Russia has had a couple of interests since all this has proceeded. One is in seeing the United States not effortlessly leave Afghanistan, but bleed out of Afghanistan," Fontaine said. "The U.S. government has accused the Russians of providing assistance to the Taliban.... Certainly the [Russians] have not wanted to see a clean [American] exit out of Afghanistan and have engaged with the Taliban for the past five years or so."