Russia Blasts Reports of Bounties on U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

Russia dismissed U.S. intelligence findings reported by American media that it paid bounties for the Taliban to kill American and allied soldiers in Afghanistan as “fake news.”

The intelligence assessments are part of the domestic political battle in the U.S. ahead of November presidential elections, said Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Afghanistan. “It’s hard to explain otherwise the appearance of such stupidities,” Kabulov told Bloomberg by phone Monday.

Kabulov said he is due to speak soon via video-conference with U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. “We won’t discuss this ‘fake news,’” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump never brought up the issue in his conversations with Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday. He dismissed the allegations as “lies,” highlighting Trump’s public rejection of them.

Russian military intelligence units offered the bounties to Afghan militants to kill U.S. and U.K. troops, according to the New York Times. The Washington Post reported Sunday that the bounties are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several American military personnel in Afghanistan, citing intelligence from interrogations of captured extremists.

Trump said in a Tweet late Sunday that intelligence officials had reported they didn’t find the claims credible and therefore didn’t brief him about them. “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax!”

The reports of Russian bounties and whether Trump knew about them have sparked a fresh political crisis for the U.S. leader, who’s already under fire for his response to the coronavirus pandemic and continuing nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.

Russia sees the accusations as an attempt to discredit Trump, who’s sought to improve ties with the Kremlin and invited Putin to a Group of Seven meeting that the U.S. will host later this year, said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

“This scandal is aimed at Trump,” Lukyanov, whose research group advises the Kremlin, said by phone. “Putin here is just an instrument like many times before.”

Despite the growing controversy, the risk of more U.S. sanctions against Russia doesn’t seem too high for the moment because of Trump’s stance, said Ivan Timofeev, an analyst at the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council.

“The Democrats can put forward a bill with sanctions over this but right now it’s hardly likely to pass,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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