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Russia, Allies to Aid U.S. in Afghanistan

Published: February 6, 2009 (Issue # 1446)


Russia and four former Soviet republics offered to help the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan on Thursday even as one, Kyrgyzstan, moved forward on a decision to cut off American access to an air base used for war supplies.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the five countries, including the Central Asian nations of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, are ready for full-fledged and comprehensive cooperation with NATO forces in the region. He spoke on state broadcaster Vesti-24 today.

At the same time, Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Adukhan Madumarov said on the same channel that the U.S. air base at Manas airport near Bishkek must cease operations within 180 days. The base would be crucial to President Barack Obamas plans for a buildup of troops to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Kyrgyz Parliament will likely vote Feb. 6 on legislation formally renouncing the agreement allowing U.S. operations at the base, the Interfax news agency reported from Bishkek.

Andranik Migranyan, a Russian institute director with ties to senior officials in Moscow, said Russian cooperation on Afghanistan may be linked to progress on resolving differences over issues such as missile defense and NATO expansion.

I am absolutely sure the Russian side is going to cooperate, said Migranyan, director of the New York-based Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, in an interview. But Russia needs some security guarantees. Not guarantees about dominance, but about its own security.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev disclosed the move to close the base in Moscow on Wednesday after receiving a Russian pledge for more than $2 billion in economic assistance.

The U.S. hasnt received any notification from Kyrgyz officials about a base closure and still hopes to negotiate a way to preserve American access, spokesmen for the State and Defense departments said. Were having discussions with the Kyrgyz about this and well continue to do so, said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

There may be basis for the hope of keeping the base accessible to the U.S., said an expert on the region, Stephen Larrabee of the RAND Corp. policy research organization in Arlington, Virginia.

It is not clear if this is a final and formal decision or whether theyre playing hardball to try to get more money out of the United States, said Larrabee, who is head of European security at RAND. Its just not clear whether the game is over.

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