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America Needs to Keeps Its Presence in Central Asia

Thursday, 24 January 2002 12:00 AM

It looks like the "honeymoon" in U.S./Russian relations, widely touted by U.S. liberal politicians as a result of Moscow's promised help in the anti-terrorism campaign, is about to end.

In return for Russia's largely symbolic support for the war on terrorism, it was granted many of the same political and economic benefits the U.S. had previously provided to its traditional friends and allies.

For its part, Russia provided limited intelligence, none of which gave real support to the anti-terrorist operation, and gave its permission to Central Asian countries to provide U.S. forces with former Soviet military facilities in their territories.

However, Moscow expected American troops to pull out of its Central Asian backyard once their Afghan military mission is accomplished.

Russia regards the region, which includes Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, where U.S. forces are using former Soviet air bases, as well as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, as being within its own sphere of strategic interests.

Moscow has been supporting the present corrupt ruling elite in these countries, all of whom remain the most repressive of the post-Soviet era, allowing no political, religious or other freedoms for its citizens.

These regimes exist solely with Russian military help and assistance, and have previously followed Moscow's requests and orders.

But currently, the Central Asian nations have found their strategic location to be the ticket to closer ties with the U.S., even if their contributions to the anti-terrorist operation have been minimal.

Recently, Moscow is very angry over the last statement of Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, that he would be ready to extend the base deal beyond the original one-year previously agreed to.

The Kremlin also disliked the statement of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov rejecting suggestions that Moscow's approval was necessary for cooperating with the U.S.

As a result, the Kremlin is critical over U.S. intentions to keep American forces in Central Asia after winding up the anti-terrorist operations.

As Konstantin Totsky, director of Russia's Border Service, said last week, U.S. forces based in the former Soviet Central Asian republics for the military campaign in Afghanistan will not be needed once the operation is over.

While telling reporters in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe that the presence of U.S. troops in Central Asian bases had been a necessity, he added: "But once the operation has ended that presence here will be superfluous."

In December, even before the final surrender of the Taliban, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he did not expect U.S. forces to stay "for a long time." And while stressing the independence of the five former Soviet republics in the region, he added, "We are not indifferent to what happens in this region."

In other words, the U.S. forces are not welcome to stay in the region, which Russia considers its own backyard and within the sphere of its own political, military and economical interests.

However, it is obvious that the U.S. presence cannot be limited to several months. The anti-terrorist operation in this region is far from over, and a reasonable number of American troops could help the U.S. prevent a rebirth of terrorism in Central Asia and the surrounding area.

The strategic location of Central Asia is extremely important, and a limited U.S. presence in the region will play an important role in determining future democratic developments in these and neighboring countries.

We also have to keep in mind the potentially huge amount of Central Asia's natural resources, which, while currently supporting Moscow's political and strategic ambitions, could, in the future, be used to provide peace and stability in the region.

There is no doubt that the U.S. has a unique and historic opportunity to establish its presence in Central Asia, a strategic link connecting all of the major troubled nations on the continent.

There is also no doubt that even this currently limited presence would be totally in the interests of the U.S. and the Western world.

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It looks like the honeymoon in U.S./Russian relations, widely touted by U.S. liberal politicians as a result of Moscow's promised help in the anti-terrorism campaign, is about to end. In return for Russia's largely symbolic support for the war on terrorism, it was...
Thursday, 24 January 2002 12:00 AM
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