Russia against US troops in Central Asia near Afghanistan

MOSCOW — Russia has strongly warned the United States against deploying its troops in the former Soviet Central Asian nations following their withdrawal from Afghanistan, a senior diplomat said in remarks published on Tuesday.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Moscow conveyed the message to Washington during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva last month.

The warning comes as the U.S. military said last week that 90% of the withdrawal of U.S. troops and equipment from Afghanistan is complete. Biden said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on Aug. 31.

“I would emphasize that the redeployment of the American permanent military presence to the countries neighboring Afghanistan is unacceptable,” Ryabkov said. “We told the Americans in a direct and straightforward way that it would change a lot of things not only in our perceptions of what’s going on in that important region, but also in our relations with the United States.”

He added that Russia has also issued the warning to Central Asian nations.

“We cautioned them against such steps, and we also have had a frank talk on the subject with our Central Asian allies, neighbors and friends and also other countries in the region that would be directly affected,” Ryabkov said in an interview published in the Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn magazine.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are all members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and any presence of foreign troops on their territories must be endorsed by the security pact. He added that none of those countries have raised the issue.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan both host Russian military bases. Kyrgyzstan, which hosted a U.S. military base that supported operations in Afghanistan, closed it in 2014.

Uzbekistan, which also hosted a U.S. base, ordered it shut in 2005 amid tensions with Washington.

“I don’t think that the emergence of new American military facilities in Central Asia would promote security in the region,” Lavrov said.

The Biden administration has reportedly considered Uzbekistan and Tajikistan that border Afghanistan, as well as Kazakhstan, as possible staging areas for monitoring and quickly responding to possible security problems that may follow the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“I don’t think that anyone is interested in becoming a hostage to such US policy and intentions, and in inviting retaliation,” Lavrov said.

The Russian foreign minister questioned what results would be achieved with a small U.S. presence outside Afghanistan when a 100,000-strong NATO force inside the country “failed to do anything.”

“Most probably, they simply want to ensure their military presence in Central Asia and be able to influence the situation in this region.”

As the American and NATO troops were swiftly pulling out, the Taliban have made quick gains across the country. They claimed on Friday that they now control 85% of Afghanistan’s territory.

Russian officials have expressed concern that the Taliban surge could destabilize Central Asia.

Taliban advances already have forced hundreds of Afghan soldiers to flee across the border into Tajikistan which called up 20,000 military reservists to strengthen its southern border with Afghanistan.

Last week, a senior Taliban delegation visited Moscow to offer assurances that the insurgents’ advances in Afghanistan do not threaten Russia or its allies in Central Asia.