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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Offers Support for U.S. Strikes

Itar-TassPutin meeting with Moslem mufti leaders in the Kremlin on Monday. He later said Russia would allow aid flights in its airspace.
Russia will support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan by supplying the Afghan opposition with weapons and military equipment and by opening its air space for shipment of humanitarian aid, President Vladimir Putin said Monday night in a televised address.

Putin said nothing about providing direct military assistance, but he said Russia would be ready to participate in possible search and rescue operations. He gave no details.

The Central Asian nations supported Russia in its decision, he said, and they may be willing to allow U.S. planes to use their air fields. One, Kazakhstan, has already offered.

Putin's address was the first concrete outline of the kind of help Russia is ready to provide to the United States as it builds an international coalition for an increasingly probably fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban has harbored Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"We are broadening cooperation with the internationally recognized government of Afghanistan headed by Mr. Rabbani and will render additional aid to its armed forces in the form of the supply of weapons and military equipment," Putin said on television, referring to the government-in-exile of President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The Russians already have been helping the Afghan opposition, which controls about 5 percent of the territory of Afghanistan.

Putin said Russia would participate in the international efforts to fight terrorism by further sharing intelligence on the infrastructure of international terrorist groups and their bases.

"Other, deeper forms of cooperation between Russia and participants in the anti-terrorist operation are possible. The depth and character of this cooperation will directly depend on our relations with these countries and on mutual understanding," Putin said.

He called for greater reliance on international organizations such as the United Nations, echoing a speech made earlier in the day before the UN General Assembly by his foreign minister.

In Washington, President George W. Bush seemed to anticipate Putin's speech. "Vladimir Putin clearly understands that the Cold War is over, and that the United States and Russia can cooperate," Bush said earlier in the day, Reuters reported. "We can cooperate with a new strategic arrangement. We can cooperate in the battle against terrorism."

Putin was the first foreign leader to call Bush after the attacks, and he offered both sympathy and a promise to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. It then took the Kremlin nearly two weeks to formulate its proposals.

Putin's address followed a marathon meeting with the heads of the defense, intelligence and security agencies in Sochi on Saturday, an hour-long telephone conversation with Bush the same day, and a series of telephone calls to the heads of the Central Asia states.

Before going on television, Putin -- known for his persistence in consensus-building -- met Monday evening with the heads of the State Duma factions. "I decided I should not make the final decision before meeting you and consulting you on this issue, which is very important for Russia's place in the world now and in the future," Putin told the faction leaders in the Kremlin.

He also met with representatives of Russia's Islamic community. "We are living through a difficult time now because of attempts by some indecent people to use Islam as a cover for deeds that don't have anything in common with it," Putin said in his speech. He said that breaking the current "harmony" between Islam and Christianity "would be disastrous for our multi-ethnic country."

Just prior to Putin's television address, two former Soviet republics -- Ukraine and Kazakhstan -- officially announced their readiness to support the U.S.-led operation. Ukraine agreed to allow U.S. military cargo aircraft to fly over its airspace, a presidential spokeswoman told news agencies.

Kazakhstan went further, offering the United States the use not only of its airspace but of its military bases. "Kazakhstan is ready to support the action against terrorism with all the means it has at its disposal," President Nursultan Nazarbayev said at a news conference.

Asked whether the support would include the use of air fields, military bases and airspace, Nazarbayev said firmly: "These means include everything you have just enumerated." He said Kazakhstan has not yet received any requests.

The two Central Asian countries that would be even more important for a U.S. operations kept silent Monday.

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan -- both bordering Afghanistan and perfectly positioned to be bases for raids on Afghan territory -- initially offered their assistance but quickly withdrew it under apparent pressure from Moscow.

The Kremlin is worried that U.S. attacks could further destabilize a region plagued by regular Islamic insurgencies and send a wave of Afghan refugees into the Central Asian states. It also is apprehensive about the presence of its former Cold War foe in a region it perceives as its strategic backyard.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said during a trip around the region last week that he could see "no basis for even a hypothetical possibility" of Western forces being stationed in Central Asia.

But just a day later, perhaps reflecting a battle within the government over how the country should proceed, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov hinted Russia might be ready to accept such a possibility. "Each country will decide on its own to what extent and how it will cooperate with the U.S. in these matters," he said during a brief visit to Washington.

There have been unconfirmed reports of American military planes landing in Uzbekistan, which is less under Russia's influence than other former Soviet republics and is not part of a collective security arrangement with Russia.

Citing sources in Tashkent, Reuters reported Sunday that two U.S. C-130 cargo planes delivering intelligence equipment had landed at a civilian airport Friday. Interfax, also quoting unidentified sources, said three U.S. military transport planes had landed, carrying 200 U.S. troops as well as the reconnaissance equipment.

But Uzbek Defense Ministry spokesman Bakhtiyar Shakirov on Monday denied these planes ever landed, Itar-Tass reported. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Power, asked Sunday whether troops had landed in Uzbekistan, said "not to my knowledge."

Even more conveniently located is Tajikistan, where 25,000 Russian troops are based, most along the long border with Afghanistan. Parts of the border are controlled by the Taliban and parts by the opposition Northern Alliance.

Representatives of the Northern Alliance were in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, on Sunday and said they were holding intensive negotiations. They did not say whether they were talking to the Russians, Americans or both.

Suggesting that some sort of preparations are going on, RTR television showed pictures of a large military cargo plane without insignia landing in Dushanbe's airport Monday evening.

Russia's approval of the Central Asian countries' engagement with the United States might have come as a result of a "desperate need to be inside on the decision-making process," said Mark Galeotti, a Russia expert with Jane's Intelligence Review.

"It's logical that it wants to be heard when the major decisions are taken," Galeotti said. Giving the United States the right of overflights and tacitly agreeing to its presence in its strategic backyard " is not such big a price to pay for being an insider," he said.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon appear to have fostered a new spirit of cooperation between Moscow and Washington.

Bush said Putin's was the first phone call he received from a foreign leader after the attacks, when he was on Air Force One and had put U.S. troops on increased alert status.

"He made it clear that he would stand down their troops," Bush said Monday of Putin, Reuters reported. "In other words, to me it was a moment where it clearly said to me, he understands the Cold War is over."