Russia Official Blames U.S. For Taliban, Rejects Reports of Moscow Support

A Russian security official has rejected accusations that Moscow has been arming and funding the Taliban in their fight against American troops in Afghanistan, echoing comments from fellow Russian officials and casting aspersions on U.S. regional policy.

In an interview published Tuesday, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev told the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper that The New York Times reports alleging that Russia offered Taliban fighters bounties for dead U.S. soldiers were "ridiculous."

Patrushev said U.S. media has "latched on to Afghanistan," driven by concern that the U.S. and Russian administrations are cooperating in trying to establish peace in the war-torn nation.

"Russian and American intelligence services cooperate in a wide range of fields," Patrushev said. "Countering terrorism is a field where we have concrete practical results."

He rejected the bounty reports as "ridiculous allegations" and said those publishing the allegations "deliberately seek to distort the truth."

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Russia of "selling small arms that have put Americans at risk [in Afghanistan] for 10 years," claiming he had raised the issue multiple times with his "Russian counterparts."

Patrushev said Russia had never provided weapons to the Taliban. "Frankly speaking, it was the United States that laid the foundation of the Taliban movement," he added, linking U.S. support for anti-Soviet mujahideen in the 1980s to the current militants fighting in Afghanistan.

There is no publicly-available evidence of the U.S. directly supporting the Taliban during the group's rise to power in the 1990s, but the U.S. did funnel billions of dollars and huge numbers of weapons to preceding mujahideen groups in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Pakistan—a U.S. ally—later helped the Taliban as the new group fought to take control of Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal and collapse.

When asked if he regretted the U.S. role in funding extremist militants in Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said: "What was more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"

Other Russian officials have tried to dodge the bounty allegations by promoting conspiracy theories and misleading information. Last week, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova responded to the bounty reports by claiming—without providing any evidence—that U.S. forces in Afghanistan had assisted local Islamic State militants.

Patrushev told Argumenty i Fakty that Russia was the victim in the current dispute. "We can only hope that U.S. political circles will settle their internal issues without trying to score an electoral win at Russia's expense," he said.

"Such a hostile thrust in our direction is hardly likely to facilitate the restoration of the atmosphere of trust, which both Moscow and Washington have been proclaiming for several years already."

US, Russia, Afghanistan, Taliban, bounties, terrorism
The file ohoto taken on July 7, 2018, shows U.S. Army soldiers during a patrol against Islamic State militants at the Deh Bala district in the eastern province of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images/Getty