(ATN NEW): Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a briefing this week that the delay by the Afghan authorities for completing prisoner exchange questions the Afghan authorities’ desire for early restoration of peace in the country. Zakharova urged the government to complete the exchange of prisoners and start direct dialogue with the armed opposition without delay. “We have pointed out that any delays in launching the intra-Afghan talks undermine the international efforts towards a settlement in Afghanistan and throw into question the Afghan authorities’ desire for an early restoration of peace in the country,” Zakharova said. In her briefing, Zakharova also confirmed that over the past few days the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan has held a number of meetings, which were focused, in part, on encouraging the Afghan leadership to start direct intra-Afghan peace talks as soon as possible. She said: “Regrettably, contrary to the positive decision taken at the Loya Jirga general assembly on August 7-9 of this year, the Afghan authorities have not released the remaining Taliban prisoners and have put forth new conditions for their release.” In the past few years, Russia has indirectly reached out to the Taliban in open efforts to nudge the peace process in a moderate direction while Russian experts agree that Russian intelligence may also have forged more confidential links with Taliban leaders.