Relations between Afghanistan and Russia first emerged in the 19th century. At the time they were placed in the context of “The Great Game”, Russian–British confrontations over Afghanistan from 1840 to 1907. The Soviet Union was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Afghanistan following the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919. On 28 February 1921, Afghanistan and Soviet Russia signed a Friendship Treaty. The Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan against the Basmachi movement in 1929 and 1930.
Following the Second World War, the Kingdom of Afghanistan and the Soviet Union formed a friendly relationship, and the latter provided much aid and development to Afghanistan. Following the Saur Revolution, the two countries signed a friendship treaty in 1978. In 1979 the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan with Operation Storm-333. This action precipitated a negative reaction in most of the Muslim world deeming it as an invasion, and contributing to a decline in Afghanistan’s prosperity and a strengthening of radical elements within the country. The Russian-backed Afghan government collapsed in 1992. However, Russo-Afghan relations have improved somewhat in the years following the conflict. Russia now has an embassy in Kabul and a consulate-general in Mazar-e-Sharif, and Afghanistan has an embassy in Moscow.
Afghanistan is also one of the few countries that recognised the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014.
Afghanistan’s role is critical for Russia in terms of security and regional infrastructure. The country lies at a strategic geographic location bordering three other Central Asian nations, (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) in addition to borders with Iran, Pakistan and a corridor with China.
Afghanistan therefore strives to serve as a connectivity hub for north-south as well as east-west trade and infrastructure lines. However, for the moment, the political, security and economic challenges Afghanistan is facing remain almost insurmountable, but the country is increasingly attractive as a Central Asia hub and has the potential to help link Central Asia to South Asia as a transit hub via Pakistan.
Russia is trying to increase trade ties and also involve Afghanistan into multilateral organizations where Moscow has a leading position. For instance, Moscow believes that Kabul should be involved in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which potentially could ensure the implementation of transport and energy projects in the region. It already has the status of an observer nation to the SCO.
Though Russia regards the situation in and around Afghanistan as unstable, overall, Moscow considers it this partially as a necessary positive in that the United States military withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021. It minimizes the presence of non-regional actors and increases the chances for projecting Russia’s economic and political influence.
Moscow is interested in Afghanistan because of potential infrastructure projects. One of such grand enterprises is the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline which Russia has recently said it does not rule out the possibility of joining. Yet Moscow remains concerned because of unresolved issues related to the security of the pipeline on Afghan soil.