President Vladimir Putin hailed Russia’s economic and military ties with India as he hosted the country’s prime minister in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on May 21. “[Bilateral relations] have very deep roots. We recently managed to give them an extra impetus,” Putin said during a meeting with Narendra Modi, noting that bilateral trade between Russia and India rose 17 percent over the first few months of the year. Calling Modi a “big friend” of Russia, Putin also said that Moscow and New Delhi have established “very close contacts and good cooperation between our military bodies.” “All of this indicates the very high strategic level of our partnership,” he added. The informal talks in Sochi come two weeks after Putin was sworn in to a new presidential term as ties between Moscow and the West have plummeted to post-Cold War lows over issues including Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its role in Syria’s seven-year conflict, its meddling in U.S. elections, and the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in Britain in March. Defense talks were expected to be on the agenda of the meeting between the Russian and Indian leaders, including India’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile-defense systems. In the last two decades, Russia-India ties have been underpinned by huge arms sales by Moscow to its “strategic partner.” An agreement on the S-400 would show India’s continued reliance on Russia’s military equipment at a time when the United States is trying to increase its own weapon sales to the South Asian country. The Russian and Indian leaders were also expected to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, where the Western-backed government has been struggling to fend off militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014. The Sochi meeting also comes amid an upturn in relations between Russia and Pakistan, former Cold War foes — a detente that has been watched with suspicion by Pakistan’s neighbor and archrival India. Meanwhile, Washington has been trying to cultivate New Delhi as a strategic ally, amid deteriorating U.S.-Pakistan relations over Islamabad’s alleged support for militant groups fighting Afghan and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials deny the accusation. Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


The Taliban has warned Kabul residents to stay away from "military centers" as they vowed more attacks in the Afghan capital.

In a statement published online on May 21, the militants said the coming attacks on "the enemy's military and intelligence centers" were part of an annual spring offensive.

"Therefore, to avoid civilian casualties and only cause damage to enemy military, we are asking Kabul residents to keep away.... We don't want even a single innocent civilian to be killed," the statement said.

It did not elaborate on what was meant by "military and intelligence centers."

The Taliban is stepping up attacks in an apparent rejection of calls for the militants to accept the Afghan government's February offer of peace talks.

The Taliban and an affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group have carried out a series of massive attacks in Kabul in recent months.

At least 25 people were killed on April 30 in twin suicide bombings claimed by IS militants, including nine journalists who had rushed to the scene of the first attack. Among the dead were two RFE/RL journalists and an RFE/RL trainee.

On May 21 in the southern province of Kandahar, officials said gunmen killed five members of a demining team that was clearing a segment for a planned gas pipeline. A sixth worker was missing following the attack in Maiwand district.

The deminers were working for the TAPI project intended to transport natural gas along an 1,800-kilometer route from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, the officials said.

Zia Durrani, spokesman for the provincial police chief, said Taliban militants were behind the attack.

A Taliban spokesman said the incident was being investigated and that the victims were not wearing the usual uniform worn by TAPI workers.

The main Taliban organization in Afghanistan has declared its support for TAPI, calling it an "important project" for the country.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.