Vladimir Putin has demanded that countries not interfere in Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul, saying the west “must stop the irresponsible policy of imposing foreign values from abroad”.
In extended remarks, Putin said he hoped the Taliban would “guarantee the security of locals and foreign diplomats” and that the country would not break apart after the withdrawal of US-led forces.
“You can’t call it a success,” he said when asked about the US-led intervention in Afghanistan, which was launched in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC. “But it’s not in our interests right now to stand on this point and talk about this as a failure. We were interested in the situation in the country being stable.”
Speaking at the Kremlin during a “farewell summit” with Angela Merkel, the outgoing German chancellor, Putin said he was worried that militants from Afghanistan would try to infiltrate nearby countries under the guise of refugees. Russia has held military exercises with central Asian states and with China in recent weeks as concerns have grown that the Taliban’s return to power could lead to border clashes.
Putin attacked the west’s support for the previous Afghan government, saying it was counterproductive to try to “build democracy in other countries according to foreign templates”.
The remarks clearly addressed a key dispute between Moscow and the west that has played out in the conflicts in Syria and Libya and even over protests in Russia itself, as Putin has accused the west of backing his opposition.
Regional powers such as Russia, China and especially Pakistan are expected to increase their influence in Afghanistan as the western coalition executes a hasty and chaotic withdrawal from the country. The Russian embassy has remained open and maintained contacts with the Taliban as the militant group has assumed control for the first time since 2001.
Merkel has met with Putin more than 30 times over her 15 years as Germany’s leader, and has lobbied vocally for maintaining a dialogue with Russia even as many other countries in Europe believe Putin can no longer be reasoned with.
Merkel and Putin during the press conference. Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AFP/Getty Images
During the press conference, she called on Russia to release the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is in prison on a conviction that is clearly political. Navalny was poisoned with a novichok agent in a failed attempt on his life one year ago on Friday.
“I demanded the release of Alexei Navalny and emphasised that we will continue following this case,” Merkel said. On Friday the UK sanctioned seven members of Russia’s FSB security service accused of participating in the nerve agent attack.
The two leaders also discussed the war in Donbass, where Russia has complained about a stalled peace process between the government in Kyiv and the separatist movement it controls in the country’s south-east.
Shortly after the two leaders met, Russia declared TV Rain and several other prominent independent media to be “foreign agents”, in the latest salvoes of a broad crackdown on press freedom in the country.
Despite the tensions between the two leaders, the summit began with a convivial air, as Putin delivered Merkel a bouquet in the Kremlin during what the German leader called “my farewell meeting … but also a working one”.
Putin called Germany “one of the main partners for us in Europe and in the world, in part because of your efforts over the past 16 years,” as he cast Merkel a fleeting smile before the talks began.