Afghan President Ashraf Ghani escaped the country with four vehicles and a helicopter loaded with cash, the Russian embassy in Kabul said Monday, Aug. 16.
On Sunday, Aug. 15, the besieged commander surrendered the presidential palace in Kabul to militant Taliban insurgents who had overthrown his government, New York Post reported.
“To avoid bloodshed, I thought it would be better to leave,” Ghani, 72, wrote on Facebook in his first comments after his departure.
The former World Bank academic, who holds a degree from Columbia University in New York City, did not specify his destination, but Al Jazeera later claimed that he had gone to Uzbekistan.
“As for the collapse of the (outgoing) regime, it is most eloquently characterized by the way Ghani fled Afghanistan,” Nikita Ishchenko, a Russian embassy spokesperson in Kabul, was quoted as stating by Russian state-owned news agency RIA, Reuters reported.
“Four cars were full of money, they tried to stuff another part of the money into a helicopter, but not all of it fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac,” Ishchenko was quoted as saying.
The spokesman verified his remarks, citing “witnesses” as his source of information. Reuters said it couldn’t immediately confirm the truth of his claim due to a lack of independent confirmation.
According to Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan, it was unknown how much money the retreating administration would leave behind.
“I hope the government that has fled did not take all the money from the state budget. It will be the bedrock of the budget if something is left,” Kabulov told Moscow’s Ekho Moskvy radio station, according to Reuters.
On Monday, Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan applauded the Taliban’s behavior, saying the group, which is still officially listed as a terrorist organization in Russia, had made Kabul safer in the first 24 hours than it had been under previous authorities, Channel News Asia reported.
Zhirnov told Moscow’s Ekho Moskvy radio station that the Taliban’s behavior thus far has impressed him, describing their attitude as “good, positive and business-like.”
“The situation is peaceful and good and everything has calmed down in the city. The situation in Kabul now under the Taliban is better than it was under (President) Ashraf Ghani,” said Zhirnov.
The remarks of Russian Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov reflect an unmasked effort by Russia to strengthen its long-standing ties with the Taliban while stopping short, for the time being, of recognizing the hardline extremist group as the legitimate rulers of a country Moscow tried and failed to control before withdrawing its last forces in 1989.
Russia wants to make sure that the turmoil in Afghanistan does not spread to Central Asia, which it considers a part of the old Soviet Union, and that it does not become a potential launchpad for other extremist militant groups.
The Russian embassy in the UK has stated that the U.S.’s geopolitical star is fading due to its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“The objective reality is that Washington’s comfortable position of US hegemony is receding into the past against the backdrop of the strengthening political positions of Russia and China,” the embassy said on Twitter on Sunday.