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Reading Between The Lines Of SVR’s Official Response To ISIS-K’s Kabul Embassy Attack
In quick succession, a spree of three events occurred in the past six weeks that very likely contributed to Russia re-evaluating its prior assessment of Pakistan’s geostrategic role in the region.
Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (popularly known as SVR per its Russian abbreviation) released an official response on Thursday to ISIS-K’s terrorist attack against their country’s Embassy in Kabul. What follows is the English version from Google Translate, which will then be analyzed:
“According to information received by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the terrorist act against the Russian Embassy in Kabul was aimed at disrupting further stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan and the constructive participation of our country in this process. The emerging progress in normalizing the situation in the IRA clearly does not suit the United States and its allies. The long-term presence of Western countries in Afghanistan has only led to the destruction of the economy, degradation in the security sphere and the formation of a breeding ground for the growth of extremism.
In the context of a global confrontation with Russia, the West seeks to prevent the strengthening of the position and influence of our country in Afghanistan. A natural result of the refusal of Western states from coordinated, systemic international cooperation in the fight against extremism was the intensification of terrorist activity in the IRA. Cases of group and single attacks have become more frequent.
Success in the fight against terrorism is impossible without the combined efforts of all countries. Flirting with extremists inevitably leads to an increase in threats to international security and new terrorist attacks.”
The first impression is that SVR’s reaction reaffirms the assessment shared by Head of the Taliban’s Political Office in Qatar Muhammad Suhail Shaheen, who claimed that the perpetrators were connected to foreign intelligence agencies that wanted to ruin bilateral relations between his country and Russia. It’s also important to note that their statement referred not just to the US in this respect, but also its unnamed “allies”, which will be returned to later on in this piece.
Moving along, Russia’s foreign spy agency blamed the West for destroying Afghanistan and thus creating fertile ground for the growth of terrorism there, which can be understood as them purposely laying the time bombs for indirectly waging Hybrid War against Russian and other multipolar interests at what they regard as strategically opportune moments like what just happened on Monday. No matter how much they deny it, the proof is in the pudding by them refusing to cooperate with Russia against terrorism.
In between these two interconnected points, SVR also made another important one regarding its belief that “the West seeks to prevent the strengthening of the position and influence of our country in Afghanistan”. This observation adds credence to the author’s recent analysis that “The Taliban Envisions Russia Playing A Big Role In The Group’s Geo-Economic Balancing Act”, just like their closer ties after the attack confirm one of the five strategic implications that he wrote about right after the bombing.
The last part of their statement with respect to how “Flirting with extremists inevitably leads to an increase in threats to international security and new terrorist attacks” is deliberately ambiguous but can be interpreted as suggesting that ISIS-K’s terrorist attack against the Russian Embassy in Kabul was at the very least an indirect effect of the US and unnamed states’ policies. The importance therein lies with SVR’s reluctance to conclude at this point that foreign intelligence was directly behind the attack.
It's relevant at this point to return to what SVR seems to have been hinting at with their reference to the US’ “allies”. Russia’s foreign spy agency could have simply just used the word “West” like it already did on three other occasions to specify exactly which states it intended to direct each part of its statement towards. This very strongly suggests that it intended to broaden the category of states that it was referring to with respect to those whose interests aren’t suited by Afghanistan’s gradual normalization.
Considering the context, the only one that this could be hinting at is Pakistan. Russia’s relations with it officially remain cordial as proven by President Putin’s optimism about their ties that he shared on the occasion of its Independence Day last month but were informally frozen by Islamabad after the US-orchestrated post-modern coup against its multipolar leader in April. Additionally, Pakistan surprisingly lost influence in Afghanistan since last year and is now in a very tense security dilemma with the Taliban.
“The Importance Of Russia’s Investigation Into ISIS-K’s Kabul Embassy Attack” isn’t just to determine the sequence of events leading up to it and thus hopefully also bring all the perpetrators to justice one day (even if indirectly by the Taliban’s hand), but also to identify which foreign intelligence agencies could have been involved or at the very least had advance notice of the attack that they didn’t share. Recalling the influence and power of Pakistan’s ISI spy agency in Afghanistan, it naturally comes under suspicion.
To be absolutely clear, there’s no evidence whatsoever at all that Islamabad had a hand in this suicide bombing attack, nor are there any grounds for speculating that Moscow thinks that it did. Rather, the hyperlinked analysis from the preceding paragraph simply predicts that Russia will investigate the scenario of whether or not Pakistan might have had intelligence that it didn’t pass on for whatever reason. That South Asian state should be given the benefit of the doubt for now, but questions persist.
For instance, despite Pakistan continuing to officially practice a policy of principled neutrality towards the Ukrainian Conflict, it nevertheless has reportedly been implicated in an international arms scandal related to its clandestine shipment of ammunition and artillery to Kiev via a UK-led airbridge. Moreover, it’s extremely likely that it allowed an American drone to transit its airspace in early August during a high-profile drone attack in Afghanistan, which prompted the Taliban to publicly condemn Pakistan.
Islamabad predictably denied playing any role in that attack, but its statement wasn’t convincing, nor did it address key questions related to that incident. Pakistani-American ties have since visibly improved as proven by the State Department announcing that it just approved the potential sale of up to $450 million worth of F-16s to its Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA, which Islamabad has officially been designated since the Bush Administration) that was previously frozen under former US President Trump.
Last month, Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev hinted at his country’s concerns about Pakistan and other SCO states’ participation in US-led multilateral military drills in Tajikistan when talking about America’s ulterior motives. He warned that Washington wants “to persuade Afghanistan’s neighboring states to create a supposedly temporary infrastructure for counterterrorist operations”, which came shortly after early August’s scandalous US drone attack.
In quick succession, a spree of three events occurred in the past six weeks that very likely contributed to Russia re-evaluating its prior assessment of Pakistan’s geostrategic role in the region. These were its suspected “passive facilitation” of America’s high-profile drone attack in Afghanistan in early August; the mid-month reports about its clandestine involvement in a transnational UK-led airbridge for militarily supplying Kiev; and early September’s decision by the US to unfreeze its F-16 deal with that country.
Add to it the tense Pakistani-Taliban security dilemma as well as reasonable speculation that the powerful ISI at the very least had some advance notice about ISIS-K’s terrorist attack against the Russian Embassy in Kabul (even if it didn’t consider the information credible and/or only received it last-minute and couldn’t pass it along in time), and it’s clear that SVR’s reference to vague American “allies’” interests not being suited by Afghanistan’s gradual normalization almost certainly refers to Pakistan.
Having argued this interpretation of that particularly curious phrase from its statement, no one should assume that Russia has any intentions to unilaterally worsen relations with Pakistan. Rather, the confluence of fast-moving events that were explained in the preceding two paragraphs (and remembering Pakistan’s continued official status as one of the US’ MNNAs) have reasonably resulted in SVR wondering whether previously multipolar Pakistan can now once again be regarded as a US ally.
In the event that Russian intelligence reaches such a conclusion upon re-evaluating its earlier assessment like is plausibly in progress due to the recent developments that were described in this analysis and hinted at in SVR’s statement, then bilateral relations will likely remain unofficially frozen for the indefinite future despite officially remaining cordial. That outcome would create an unexpected obstacle to Eurasia’s multipolar integration, but it wouldn’t be insurmountable.