Russia won't join any U.S. retaliation
© St. Petersburg Times,
MOSCOW -- Russia on Friday rejected participation in any U.S.-led retaliatory strike against terrorists and said the United States should not use countries in Central Asia as a staging ground for an assault against neighboring Afghanistan.
Although Russia has officially pledged cooperation in fighting what President Vladimir Putin called a "common enemy," Friday's statements by top Russian military officials could have the effect of restricting U.S. options as President Bush considers whether and how to proceed against those responsible for Tuesday's attacks in New York and Washington. Tajikistan and several other countries in former Soviet Central Asia are among the few obvious launching pads against the Afghanistan-based organization of leading terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden.
Defense Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters during a summit in Armenia that the United States and its allies should not rely on Central Asia to stage any assault. "I see absolutely no basis for even hypothetical suppositions about the possibility of NATO military operations on the territory of Central Asian nations," Ivanov said.
At the same time, Russian military leaders made clear Russia will not likely take part "in the retaliatory acts" planned by the United States, said Gen. Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the Russian general staff. Kvashnin said, "The U.S. armed forces are powerful enough to deal with this task alone."
But Friday's statements do not rule out far more extensive cooperation between Russia and the United States than in the past. Both Western and Russian officials said that high-level bilateral talks are continuing with the aim of cooperation that could go well beyond sharing intelligence information. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is to arrive in Moscow next week for meetings on joint anti-terrorist operations.
And Russia's allies in Tajikistan on Friday did not reject the possibility that the United States could use its airspace as part of an operation against bin Laden. Tajik Prime Minister Akil Akilov said only that he will "definitely" consult with Russia before agreeing to such a step, according to Interfax.
Still, it was clear Friday that Russia fears U.S. strikes against bin Laden could set off a new wave of violence in the already volatile region on its southern border, where leaders in several former Soviet states are already clashing with Islamic militants at least loosely allied with the extremist Taleban leadership of Afghanistan that has given refuge to bin Laden.
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