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October 18, 2021 9:16 am

Russia-Led Bloc Holds Large-Scale Drills Near Tajik-Afghan border

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Tanks of Tajikistan’s armed forces are seen during the joint military drills involving Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, at the Harb-Maidon training ground, located near the Tajik-Afghan border in the Khatlon Region of Tajikistan August 10, 2021. REUTERS/Didor Sadulloev

A Russia-led post-Soviet security bloc started its largest military drills near the Tajik-Afghan border in years on Monday amid cross-border tensions ahead of talks between Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders and major regional powers.

Unlike Afghanistan’s other northern neighbors who have de facto acknowledged the Taliban leadership and started building working relationships with Kabul, Tajikistan has refused to recognize the Islamist movement and there are reports of troop build-ups on both sides of the border.

The exercise carried out by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will involve over 5,000 servicemen, more than half of them Russian soldiers, Russia and Tajikistan’s defense ministries said.

The six-day drills follow a series of smaller-scale exercises held in the vicinity of the Afghan border by Russia and its Central Asian allies in August and September.

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Russia is worried about the possibility of Islamist militants infiltrating the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which Moscow views as its southern defensive buffer.

Moscow operates a military base in the former Soviet republic and has reassured Dushanbe it would assist it in the event of any cross-border intrusion.

A high-level Taliban delegation is set to visit Moscow this week for talks that will also involve China, Pakistan, India and Iran, although a senior Russian official has been reported as saying he did not expect any breakthrough.

Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan, also said officials from Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan would meet separately in Moscow on Tuesday to come up with a united position on the changing situation in Afghanistan.

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