Russia Gushes Over ‘Fun’ Taliban at Theme Park—Then Reports Taliban Burned It Down
Russian state media was quick to fawn over a clip of reported Taliban members enjoying bumper car rides. But the next day, it claimed the group had burned the amusement park down.
While Afghanistan is reeling from the fallout of the U.S. withdrawal, Russian government officials and state media are busy extolling the Taliban—the new sheriff in town. On Tuesday, an article by state news outlet Vesti gushed that the Taliban “is displaying unprecedented liberalism” towards women by allowing them to continue working in television. The article went on to say, “While the West anticipated the coming assault on women's rights, everything turned out not to be so scary.”
On Monday, anchor of state TV channel Rossiya-24 Stas Natanzon pointed out that according to Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov, Kabul is a much more peaceful place under Taliban rule. The program showcased a clip of what appeared to be jolly Taliban members at the amusement park—riding around in bumper cars, going for a spin on a carousel, and bouncing on a trampoline. Natanzon claimed that—compared to the group’s customary rules—the new and improved Taliban would allow women uncommon rights and entitlements, such as an ability to work and study.
The next day, Natanzon added, “According to all the information coming in, the Taliban is not what it used to be... Unthinkably, they even permitted golf and soccer!” State TV’s Channel 1 used the same jolly videos, with correspondent Yulia Olkhovskaya saying, “The atmosphere in Kabul is so calm that Taliban fighters are riding carousels like children and jumping around on trampolines.”
One day later, Vesti reported that the Taliban burned down that amusement park. The state media noted, “The Taliban had just announced amnesty and went on TV to promise peace in all of Afghanistan... but then they burned down the amusement park where they recently had so much fun. The Taliban probably objected to the horses on the merry-go-round. For them, these are idols that are prohibited in Islam.”
Though multiple Russian state media outlets reported that the amusement park enjoyed by the Taliban was destroyed by the group the following day, The Daily Beast could not independently confirm if the site was actually burned down. A video of what appears to be a theme park set ablaze has been widely shared on Twitter, with users alleging it was the Taliban’s doing.
On Monday, Ambassador Zhirnov told radio station Ekho Moskvy that the atmosphere greatly improved and calmed down under Taliban rule. Zhirnov claimed that previously, the Russian embassy in Kabul constantly had to deal with shots, explosions, and terrorist acts unfolding all around them. He claimed, “This morning, the Taliban came to us and said that since they guaranteed our safety, not a single hair would fall from the head of a Russian diplomat... Everything is very civilized, very calm... Kabul is a safe place... The situation in Kabul is better than it was under [former President of Afghanistan] Ashraf Ghani. Turns out that it’s better under terrorists than under Ghani.”
Zhirnov said he was very impressed with the Taliban, describing them as “very reasonable and well-armed people.” In July, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used similar terms when he laid the groundwork for continued cooperation, referring to members of the terrorist group that is formally banned in Russia as “rational people.”
After another meeting with members of the Taliban at the Russian embassy in Kabul, Zhirnov was even more elated. Appearing on state TV channel Rossiya-24 on Tuesday, the Russian ambassador claimed that the locals warmly welcomed the Taliban’s arrival, with some seeing them as “their light at the end of the tunnel” and an assurance that “life will get better.”
Zhirnov added, “The Taliban confirmed that they have the best, the friendliest approach to Russia... All of our needs will be met.” Zhirnov praised the Taliban for successfully bringing order to the streets of Kabul: “There is sheer silence... All is calm... Everything calmed down as soon as they entered the city... They’re acting in a responsible and civilized manner.”
Co-host of the state TV show 60 Minutes Olga Skabeeva proclaimed during Tuesday’s broadcast of 60 Minutes: “You won’t believe this, but even Afghan head-cutters from the Taliban turned out to be better crisis managers than the civilized peacemakers from the United States.” She added, “Today they acknowledged that women are also people. Taliban recognized women and they can even work. Not everywhere, but in some places.”
Skabeeva told the show’s experts, “Let’s calm down. They will be stoning women solely based on a court order.” Seething about the Taliban’s approach towards women, Skabeeva pointed out, “There’s no one else we can talk to in Afghanistan.” She blamed the United States for not training locals, who may disagree with the Taliban’s ways, to oppose the group’s takeover.
The host summed up the reason for the state media rush to whitewash the Taliban during Wednesday’s broadcast of 60 Minutes: “The first nation to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government will rule the region,” she said. “China is already starting to look at that.”