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Russian President Vladimir Putin in June offered U.S.President Joe Biden “the use of Russian military bases in Central Asia for information gathering from Afghanistan,” Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported on Saturday.
“Putin proposed at June 16 talks with Biden in Geneva that they coordinate on Afghanistan and put Russia’s bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to ‘practical use,’” Kommersant reported on July 17 citing unnamed sources.
The Russian daily said the proposed deal “could involve the exchange of information obtained using drones but that there had been no concrete response from the U.S. side.”
U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Central Command, confirmed in April that Washington was “exploring options to keep assets in Central Asia to respond to any threats,” Voice of America (VOA) reported on May 21. Speaking to the U.S. Congress on April 20, McKenzie revealed that “the U.S. needs overhead intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms in the region, which could include large, manned aircraft and drones.”
“Washington has military cooperation and overflight agreements with all Central Asian countries except Kyrgyzstan, which ended them in 2014, closing a U.S. airbase in Bishkek,” according to the U.S. government-funded VOA.
The prospect of Russian and U.S. soldiers sharing a military base in Central Asia raises concerns about how such a setup might impact the safety of U.S. military intelligence, especially given Kommersant‘s emphasis on the arrangement’s ability to facilitate “the exchange of information” between Moscow and Washington. Russia operates military bases across Central Asia, including in the Afghan border state of Tajikistan, where an estimated 7,500 Russian troops are stationed at the Russian 201st Military Base in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. Kyrgyzstan, which does not directly border Afghanistan but does border Tajikistan to the northeast, also hosts a Russian military base.
“The Biden administration has reportedly considered Uzbekistan and Tajikistan that border Afghanistan, as well as Kazakhstan, as possible staging areas for monitoring and quickly responding to possible security problems that may follow the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan,” the Associated Press reported on July 13.
“Unlike Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan is not a member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO],” VOA noted on May 21, alluding to a possible reason why Washington has chosen to focus on re-establishing a presence in Uzbekistan more than other Central Asian states. The CSTO is a Russian-led military alliance of former Soviet states viewed as an eastern counterweight to NATO.
Reuters reported on July 2 that Biden’s administration was negotiating with Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan to determine if the three Central Asian nations would agree to take in Afghan refugees in the wake of a joint U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The U.S. military plans to completely pull out of Afghanistan by August 31 as part of Washington’s plans to end the Afghan War. The nearly two-decade-long conflict began in the autumn of 2001 with the U.S. removal of the Taliban terror group from Afghanistan’s government. The Taliban has reportedly reconquered nearly 90 percent of Afghanistan in recent weeks as U.S. and allied NATO forces pull out of the country.
The jihadist terror group’s resurgence threatens the safety of “thousands of Afghans who worked with U.S. forces,” such as interpreters, Reuters noted on July 2. Many Afghan translators who worked with the U.S. over the past twenty years now “face threats from the Taliban,” according to the news agency. President Biden said on June 24 that Afghans who helped the U.S. military “are not going to be left behind” after America recalls its troops from the country.
Afghans who worked closely with U.S. military personnel are not the only demographic now under threat from the Taliban. Afghan civilians and government soldiers are reportedly fleeing Afghanistan for nearby Central Asian countries like Tajikistan as the Sunni Islam-based terror group reconquers large swathes of the country and reimposes sharia, or Islamic law.
Tajikistan’s government on July 7 urged Russia to help secure the Tajik-Afghan border amid an “influx” of Afghan refugees that have poured into the country in recent weeks. Dushanbe requested Moscow’s military aid by invoking a 2013 CSTO agreement by Russia to help bolster Tajikistan’s border defenses.
“Russia, as well as the CSTO in general, is ready to render necessary assistance to Tajikistan in case of evident aggressive actions from the Afghan territory,” Russian Ambassador to Tajikistan Igor Lyakin-Frolov told Kommersant on July 19.
“In line with a respective agreement with Tajikistan, the 201st Russian military base is stationed in the republic, which is the guarantor of security and stability on the southern borders of the CSTO responsibility zone,” he said.
“[If necessary, the base] will repel any aggressive actions from Afghan terrorist organizations,” the envoy added.