MOSCOW, Sept. 24 -- President Vladimir Putin tonight pledged
to step up Russia's military support for opposition forces inside
Afghanistan and gave tacit approval for the United States to use
former Soviet air bases in Central Asia as part of any retaliatory
In a televised speech pronouncing Russia "ready to contribute
to the fight against terror," Putin vowed to send more weapons
and badly needed equipment to Afghanistan's Northern Alliance,
which has been battling the ruling Taliban regime that is suspected
of harboring Osama bin Laden.
After private consultations with advisers and President Bush,
Putin spelled out a relatively restricted role for Russia. He
offered use of Russian airspace for humanitarian flights, expressed
readiness to take part in "search and rescue operations"
resulting from any Afghan conflict, and vowed to share intelligence
about international terrorist groups and their locations.
At the same time, he made clear Russia remains wary of military
involvement in a new Afghanistan battle little more than a decade
after the Soviet Union's defeat there. "Other, deeper forms
of cooperation" are possible, he said, without elaborating
on what additional steps Russia would consider.
Tonight's speech, however, clarified Russia's position on an
unprecedented U.S. military presence in former Soviet Central
Asia. While Putin did not explicitly endorse the use of Central
Asia as a staging area for an assault on Afghanistan, he said
his position was shared by Central Asian leaders and that they
"do not rule out" use of their air bases.
Despite much debate, "it was finally agreed that Russia
is not going to confront the leaders of Central Asian states"
if they choose to cooperate with the United States, said Grigory
Yavlinsky, a parliamentary leader who attended a closed-door briefing
by Putin before tonight's speech. "They ironed out an agreement
In an interview, Yavlinsky said Putin had made "a real step
forward" toward integrating Russia with the U.S.-led Western
Defense Secretary Sergei Ivanov announced that a senior Pentagon
delegation would arrive next week to discuss more specific cooperation
between Russia and the United States. However, Ivanov reiterated
that Russia will not decide to join a military coalition against
the Taliban. "That is absolutely ruled out," he said.
"It is out of the question."
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of Terror in the US