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Russia says US must release Afghanistan's blocked reserves, cause no more problems for country

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
An Afghan money changer counts US dollars at a currency exchange market in Kabul, Afghanistan. (File photo)

Russia has called on the United States to release blocked reserves of the Afghan central bank and stop making more problems for the Taliban-controlled country.

The Taliban captured Kabul and ousted the government of the now runaway President Ashraf Ghani on August 15, after firming up their grip on almost the entire country through rapid advances that faced no or little resistance from government troops.

Following the Taliban takeover of the Afghan capital, Washington froze a sizable portion of nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank – officially known as Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) – and halted shipments of cash to the war-ravaged country, claiming that it tries to bar a Taliban-led government from accessing the money.

“If our Western colleagues are actually worried about the fate of the Afghan people, then we must not create additional problems for them by freezing gold and foreign exchange reserves,” said Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov on Monday.

Speaking on the state-run Rossiya 24 network, he added that Washington must urgently unfreeze these assets in a bid to “bolster the rate of the collapsing national currency.”

Kabulov further warned that without unfreezing DAB’s reserves, the Taliban would turn to “the trafficking of illegal opiates” and “sell on the black market the weapons” abandoned by the Afghan army and the US.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), DAB’s gross reserves totaled $9.4 billion at the end of April.

An estimated $7 billion of these funds are held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and $1.3 billion of them are held in international accounts, mostly in European banks.

Russia holds drills near Afghan border as evacuations of more people continue

Also on Monday, Russia’s defense ministry, according to a report by Interfax, said that some 500 Russian motorized infantry troops from Russia's military base in Tajikistan were conducting military exercises in the mountains near the Afghan border.

It added that the drills included test-fire from an S-300 air defense system in a simulated attack on the base.

So far this month, Russia has carried out two sets of drills, excluding the aforementioned one, in the vicinity of the Afghan border. Next month, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Moscow-led post-Soviet security bloc, will hold another exercise in Kyrgyzstan, which hosts a Russian military airbase.

Last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow would work more closely with CSTO member states as the pullout of the American forces of Afghanistan raises regional security risks.

Separately, Russia’s embassy in Kabul tweeted that extra evacuation flights would be open to Russian citizens and residents as well as nationals of CSTO’s member states.

Last week, Russia evacuated around 360 people.

In a report on Monday, Interfax, citing a representative of the Afghan diaspora center in Russia, said that 500 Afghans might also be eligible as students, residents or work permit holders.

Russia's diplomatic mission in Kabul remains operational.

Kabulov also said on Monday that the embassy was working to establish relations with Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers, stressing that Moscow is ready to help rebuild the war-ravaged country’s economy.

“We are establishing ties (with Taliban officials), our embassy in Kabul is working quite actively on this. We have had such contacts for a long time and we will work further on them,” he added.

The Taliban are poised to run Afghanistan again 20 years after they were removed from power by American forces following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The Taliban intensified their offensive and rapidly overran major Afghan cities after the US-led foreign forces enforced what has been criticized as a hasty and ill-planned withdrawal.

Since then, Kabul’s airport has been the scene of chaos and sporadic violence, with panicked Afghan and foreign nationals desperately trying to catch evacuation flights out of the country, prompting officials there to enforce restrictions.

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