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Russia-led bloc holds large-scale drills near Tajik-Afghan border

DUSHANBE, October 18

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 neighbours who have de facto acknowledged the Taliban leadership and started building working relationships with Kabul, Tajikistan has refused to recognise the Islamist movement and there are reports of troop build-ups on both sides of the border.

6-day exercise in former Soviet Republics of Central Asia

The six-day drills follow a series of small-scale exercises held in the vicinity of the Afghan border by Russia and its Central Asian allies in August and September
Russia is worried about the possibility of Islamist militants infiltrating into 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

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

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. — Reuters

Shuts mission to NATO over spy row

Moscow: Russia said on Monday it would halt the activities of its diplomatic mission to NATO after the alliance expelled eight Russians in a row over spying. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that in return, staff at NATO’s military mission in Moscow would be stripped of their accreditation from November 1, a news agencies reported. “If NATO members have any question, they can contact our envoy in Belgium,” he said. Reuters

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