Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Ufa, Russia, July 2015. 
REUTERS / Photohost / RIA Novosti

For the last decade and a half, Russia and the United States have had largely similar aims in Afghanistan: preventing chaos and the reemergence of a safe haven for terrorists. That convergence has allowed the two countries to work together. But beneath the surface, there are important differences. Although both want stability, they define it in very different ways. The U.S. approach is founded on creating a strong central government in Kabul and a well-equipped and well-trained national security force; Russia, meanwhile, works with a wide range of actors, some of which compete directly with the government in Kabul. Moscow has even reached out to the Taliban, legitimizing a group that continues to threaten the security of both the Afghan government and U.S. and NATO forces.

Over the last couple of years, the gap between the Russian and U.S. strategies has grown. Russia increasingly believes that the

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  • JULIA GURGANUS is a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on a sabbatical sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency. From 2014 to 2017, she served as National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council. The views expressed are her own.
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