Russia says it wants to help start Afghan peace talks as fighting rages

·1-min read
U.S. climate envoy Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Friday it wanted to help kickstart peace talks between the warring sides in Afghanistan after fierce clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban near the border with Pakistan.

Taliban fighters seized the border area on Wednesday, the second-largest crossing on the border with Pakistan and one of the most important objectives they have achieved during a rapid advance across the country as U.S. forces pull out after 20 years of conflict.

"I would like to confirm Russia's interest in facilitating dialogue between Afghanistan's warring sides with the aim of ending the years-long war and establishing Afghanistan as a peaceful, independent and neutral state," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Lavrov was speaking at a conference with senior Central Asian officials in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

The U.S. exit from Afghanistan is a security headache for Moscow which fears spiralling fighting may push refugees into its Central Asian backyard and destabilise its southern defensive flank.

Russian officials have previously called on all sides of the Afghanistan conflict to show restraint and said that Russia and the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military bloc will act decisively to prevent aggression on Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan if needed.

Russia on Wednesday urged Afghan officials to launch proper negotiations with the Taliban about the country's future before it was too late.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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