After leaving Afghanistan, the United States is looking for a way to gain a foothold in Central Asia in order to maintain a presence in the region. However, unlike 2001, today Russia is not ready to let NATO forces into its “underbelly”, although it does not mind helping Washington in a real fight against terrorism.
Russia will not tolerate NATO’s presence in the zone of its interests. Russian officials at various levels, in particular, the Russian Foreign Ministry, continue to remind of this. So, last week, the head of the Russian diplomatic ser-vice, Sergei Lavrov, called on Afghanistan’s neighbors to prevent the appearance of NATO and US forces on their territory. Lavrov made this statement at the ministerial meeting of Iran, China, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The statement came against the backdrop of reports from the Politico newspaper that a delegation of Pentagon representatives was sent to Tashkent to discuss options for deploying their counterterrorism forc-es in Uzbekistan. In recent months, Washington has been trying to work more closely with Tashkent on Afghan settlement issues.
“According to American officials, after leaving Afghanistan, Uzbekistan has risen on the list of US priorities. This country is a neighbor of Afghanistan, and Tashkent was open to discussions about accepting refugees and deploying American troops, although in the end both issues ended in nothing. However, some lawmakers view Uzbekist-an as a country with unique opportunities to help the United States protect regio-nal interests in the future, “the newspaper writes.
The United States has long planned to gain a foothold in Central Asia
Back in the spring, the American media wrote that even after the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan, the United States needed to remain “nearby.”
Washington hoped to strengthen cooperation with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan bordering Afghanistan. It was about flight rights and more intensive intelligence sharing. The formal goal is to prevent the activation of international terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
The American side already has experience of military cooperation in the region. Moreover, according to unconfirmed sources, this became possible only thanks to the decision of Vladimir Putin to help the United States in its fight against terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attack.
At the very beginning of the Afghan campaign, Washington leased the Karshi-Khanabad military base from Tashkent. In 2005, Uzbekistan became one of the few, if not the first country in the world, which, having let in the American military, changed its mind and showed them the way out. Much the same thing later happened to the American base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan, from where the Americans were asked to leave in 2014.
Far-reaching American interests
In early 2020, the State Department outlined the official US strategy for Central Asia policy. The Americans outlined their approach in six main points:
- Reduce terrorist threats in Central Asia.
- Expand and maintain stability in Afghanistan.
- Encourage communication between Central Asia and Afghanistan;
- Promote the reform of the rule of law and respect for human rights;
- Promote US investment in the development of the region.
Some of these points have already completely failed. However, containment of Afghan terrorists is hardly the main reason the US is trying to gain a foothold in Central Asia. The Americans have been in the region for almost 20 years, and the terrorist threat has only grown since then. If NATO and the US really worried about the security of Afghanistan, they would not have left the government of this country face to face with well-armed militants.
From a strategic point of view, the Americans lost in Afghanistan not a loyal government, but their regional presence. Against the background of the strengthening of Russia and China, it is vital for Washi-ngton to have leverage in the Caucasus and Central Asia. That is why the Uni-ted States is flirting with Central Asian countries, trying to win their favor.
Russia does not want to see NATO in Central Asia
In Russia, the Americans’ plans are unequivocally – sharply negative. Moscow is warning its Central Asian neighbors that the very presence of the US military automatically makes them targets for international terrorists.
Even before the Americans left Afghanistan completely, Moscow began to take measures to prevent a scenario in which NATO would take root in the region. As the Kommersant newspaper reported in May, the Russian authorities had already warned partners that the United States was not so much interested in maintaining control over the situation in Afghanistan as it was seeking to use Central Asia as a springboard to contain Russia, China and Iran.
In addition, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, at the August meeting in Geneva, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his American counterpart Joe Biden about the inadmissibility of NATO’s presence in Central Asia.
Putin also openly criticized the idea of transferring Afghan refugees to the region and pointed out that the situation in Afghanistan is “directly related” to the security of the Russian Federation.
“Our, say, Western partners are persistently raising the issue of placing refugees in Central Asian countries before receiving visas from the United States or other countries. This means that you can be sent to these countries without visas, to our neighbors, but they do not want to take them without visas. “What kind of humiliating approach to solving this issue is this,” Putin noted.
At the same time, he suggested that the United States work together in the Afghan direction, including in cooperation with Russian military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, for example, for the exchange of intelligence.
The last time, the Americans were reminded clearly and unequivocally of their unwillingness to see NATO in Central Asia during a recent visit to Moscow by US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.
Central Asian authorities stand in solidarity with Moscow
In September, Dushanbe hosted a meeting of foreign ministers, defense ministers and secretaries of the Security Councils of the CSTO member countries (in addition to Russia, the bloc includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan).
As a result of this meeting, the CSTO countries jointly declared the inadmissibility of the deployment on their territory of the military infrastructure of the United States and other NATO countries, as well as Afghan citizens who collaborated with foreign military personnel, located in Afghanistan.
Tashkent, which is not part of the CSTO, also expressed solidarity with the position of its neighbors and announced that it did not intend to deploy the US military on its territory.
At the same time, the Uzbek authorities noted their readiness to negotiate the exchange of intelligence as part of the common fight against terrorism.
“I want to reaffirm that this issue [about the dep-loyment of US troops] is not worth discussing or rai-sed,” said Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov.
According to him, “in the course of many serious meetings” the United States was told that Uzbekistan does not accept the deployment of American troops on its territory: “The reality is that there is no need for this.”
At the same time, at least two delegations of American legislators have visited Uzbekistan in recent weeks. A participant in one of these trips, Republican Congressman Don Bacon (Nebraska) told reporters that Uzbekistan could “turn into a democratic state.” He also noted that the country still has a lot to do, but it has already embarked on the path of reforms.