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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ivanov: U.S. Will Leave Central Asia

ReutersRussian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, right, smiling as Afghan Defence Minister Mohammad Fahim answers journalists' questions during a news conference in Moscow on Tuesday.
Russia is not overly concerned about the U.S. military presence in Central Asia and expects the troops to leave shortly after the counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan is completed, Defense Minister Igor Ivanov said Tuesday.

Ivanov's remarks, made at a joint news conference with visiting Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, came amid growing concern in Russia that U.S. troops will not leave Russia's backyard any time soon.

"So far I would not raise the degree of our concern to an unnecessarily high level," Ivanov said.

Ivanov said that he considers the U.S. bases "largely positive" given the scale of the campaign and that Russia has received U.S. assurances that they were temporary. "Some time is needed here," Ivanov said. "Any euphoria about organizational and other structures of the Taliban and al-Qaida being crushed is premature. Many of their supporters and the terrorists themselves have gone into hiding ... but they could seek [any] opportunity to reveal themselves."

Ivanov reiterated that Russia is ready to assist in building a new Afghan army but will send no military advisers.

Fahim said Afghanistan was looking forward to continued assistance from Russia, stressing, however, that it was not interested in buying new arms.

"At present there are enough arms in the country, and we do not need any new arms purchases," Fahim said. "The cooperation and help we are counting on lies in the field of repairing military hardware and putting military units in order."

Ivanov said Moscow was ready to offer trainer jets, transport aircraft and military communications systems.

Fahim, whose five-day visit started Monday, met later Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin. He is to sit down later this week with the chief of the General Staff, Anatoly Kvashnin, and officials from the Rosoboronexport arms trading giant, Aviaexport and MiG.

Ivanov and Fahim would not put a price tag on the Russian assistance or say who would pay for the spare parts.

Marat Kenzhetayev, an expert with the Center for Arms Control, said Afghanistan received Russian arms worth no less than $100 million last year, including T-55 and T-62 tanks, armored carriers, Mi-17 helicopters and Grad multiple launch rocket systems. That is much less than the $6 billion or so in deliveries Kabul took in 1989-91, he said.

Political analysts said that despite Ivanov's upbeat remarks about the U.S. presence in Central Asia, there was not much chance that the troops would leave in the near future. (Story, page 4.)

"Ivanov's declaration is a bitter attempt to put a good face on a bad business," said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst. Markov said the United States could argue that it has to stay in the region -- for anything from a few months to up to 15 years -- to preserve Afghanistan's fragile stability.

"I don't think that the U.S. will pull out of the Central Asia," said Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. "The United States is circling China, the only country that could put up an economic, political or military fight. They are currently in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, while India is anti-Chinese. A large curve remains unprotected -- Russia and Central Asia."