A delegation of Russian officials is on its way to Afghanistan to establish ties with what Moscow calls "the legitimate government" there.
Senior Russian diplomats say the delegation's visit to Kabul is the first step toward resuming a permanent Russian presence in Afghanistan. Seventeen officials from Russia's foreign and defense ministries will hold talks with leaders of the Northern Alliance, who now control Kabul.
Along with almost every country, Russia recognized the alliance's political leadership as the official Afghan government throughout the rule of the Taleban. Moscow has described the Alliance as "the leadership of the lawful government of Afghanistan."
At the same time, Moscow backs a United Nations plan to form a new, broad-based government which would include Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in the country. Most alliance leaders and fighters are from the smaller Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara groups.
Russian officials say that eventually Moscow will reopen its embassy in the Afghan capital.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov says there is no contradiction in Russia's diplomatic position. He says it is necessary to work with the alliance to discuss the U.N. plan, the continuing war against terrorism, and other issues.
Mr. Losyukov says this is especially important because most of the world never broke relations with the alliance government throughout the five-year rule of the Taleban. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates ever recognized the hard-line Islamic group as a government.
Russia has strongly supported the military campaign against the Taleban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network, but has ruled out any role for the Russian military in Afghanistan.