Thanks to the chaotic withdrawal that the Biden administration has carried out in Afghanistan, a refugee crisis is potentially unfolding that is not only impacting the US but is also beginning to spread into the immediate vicinity of Central Asia.
As the regional power who has a vested interest in maintaining order in Central Asia, Russia has watched Afghanistan like a hawk. Its president Vladimir Putin has taken a tough stance on curbing refugee inflows.
On August 22, 2021, Putin on rejected the idea of sending people evacuating from Afghanistan to countries near Russia, saying he did not want “militants showing up here under cover of refugees”, according to reports from Russian news agencies.
Putin sharply attacked the concept being floated by some Western countries to resettle refugees from Afghanistan to Central Asian countries close by as their visas to the United States and Europe are going through the usual bureaucratic hoops.
“Does that mean that they can be sent without visas to those countries, to our neighbours, while they themselves (the West) don’t want to take them without visas?”, Putin said to leaders of the United Russia party.
“Why is there such a humiliating approach to solving the problem?” Putin added.
Russia allows citizens of ex-Soviet Central Asian countries to travel visa free. However, Putin stressed that Russia will not be taking in Afghan refugees.
“We don’t want militants showing up here under cover of refugees,” Russian website TASS quoted Putin.
The Russian government has praised the Taliban for bringing a semblance of order to Afghanistan after the US thoroughly screwed it up in a 20-year occupation of the country.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov believes Taliban leaders have kept their promises thus far.
“We are seeing the statements the Talibs made about ceasing combat actions, an amnesty for all of those involved in the confrontation, about a need for a nationwide dialogue … they are being implemented,” Lavrov said.
According to Lavrov, the Taliban has initiated contacts with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Putin understands what’s at stake. Since Russia broke free from the Soviet Union it was immediately faced with the immense challenge of Islamic radical militancy in the Caucasus region. Such Islamist activity was most prominent during the Chechen wars that sparked throughout the past twenty years.
Russia’s Muslim population is not small by any means. According to figures from the Hudson Institute, Muslims constitute roughly 10% of the population. Some projections point to Muslims making up one-third of the country’s population by the 2030s. Coupled with the fact that Russia’s population is below the replacement threshold, a situation where the fertility rate falls below 2.1 children per woman, Russia taking in more refugees would demographically destabilize the country in the short-term.
Unlike the starry-eyed leftists in the West, Putin’s politics is influenced by realism and he recognized that a huge refugee inflow would hurt his country. Perhaps old Vlad could teach Western leaders a thing or two about hard-nosed politics.