Agencies (Qasioun) - Afghan and American officials are increasingly worried that any deepening of ties between Russia and Taliban militants fighting to topple the government in Kabul could complicate an already precarious security situation.
Russian officials have denied they provide aid to the insurgents, who are contesting large swathes of territory and inflicting heavy casualties, and say their limited contacts are aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Leaders in Kabul say Russian support for the Afghan Taliban appears to be mostly political so far.
But a series of recent meetings they say has taken place in Moscow and Tajikistan has made Afghan intelligence and defense officials nervous about more direct support including weapons or funding.
A senior Afghan security official called Russian support for the Taliban a "dangerous new trend", an analysis echoed by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson.
He told reporters at a briefing in Washington last week that Russia had joined Iran and Pakistan as countries with a "malign influence" in Afghanistan, and said Moscow was lending legitimacy to the Taliban.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pushed back at Nicholson's comments in a briefing in Moscow on Wednesday, calling them naive and inaccurate.
"We have repeatedly said that Russia is not carrying out any secret talks with the Taliban and is not providing it with any kind of support," she said.
Zakharova said Russia favors a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, which can only happen by cultivating contacts with all players, including the Taliban.
The Russian embassy in Kabul has scheduled a press conference for Thursday to discuss Afghan-Russian relations, amid reports that the Afghan parliament plans to investigate Russia's ties with the Taliban.