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Ex-Soviet states to form counterweight to NATO

Latest update : 2009-02-05

President Dmitry Medvedev (pictured) announced Wednesday that Russia and six other ex-Soviet states will form a common defence force. The Collective Security Treaty Organisation is widely seen as aimed at countering the influence of NATO.

AFP - Russia and other ex-Soviet states agreed on Wednesday on plans for a common defence force and a common fund for fighting the economic crisis, as Moscow bids for renewed dominance in its neighbourhood.
President Dmitry Medvedev announced that a rapid reaction force based in Russia would be set up by seven ex-Soviet states: Armenia, Belarus and the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
"We signed an accord on the need to form unified forces" capable of reacting to "threats," Medvedev said at a meeting of the countries' leaders in the Kremlin.
Russia would provide two paratroop units based in the centre and the south of the country, a presidential aide, Sergei Prikhodko, added.
Five of the ex-Soviet states also agreed to set up a 10-billion-dollar (7.7-billion-euro) crisis fund, with the bulk of the finance coming from Russia and Kazakhstan.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko described the fund as "a security cushion in case suddenly the situation for a particular country becomes very critical."
The initiatives come as Russia has pushed to regain lost influence in its neighbourhood after a US effort under former president George W. Bush to form political and military ties with countries such as Georgia and Ukraine.
A Moscow-led defence organisation known as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation is widely seen as aimed at countering the Western-led NATO alliance.
Analysts say Moscow has made considerable progress in its drive for renewed regional dominance, notably through its military thrust into Georgia last year, which left Russian forces entrenched along key energy and transit routes.
Medvedev strikingly extended a hand of friendship to the United States over Afghanistan -- hours after Kyrgyzstan announced the closure of a US airbase on its territory in a move widely seen as orchestrated by Moscow.
"Russia and other states ... are ready for full-scale, fully fledged cooperation with the United States and other state coalitions in combating terrorism in the region," Medvedev said.
While Russia has long been nervous about the US base in Kyrgyzstan, a senior Russian official said Moscow was ready to cooperate specifically on the issue of transit to Afghanistan.
The issue is crucial for the United States as it seeks to expand its operations in Afghanistan and has simultaneously run into problems with supply routes on Afghanistan's unstable southern border with Pakistan.
Russia in recent days had passed a "positive answer" to Washington on its requests for Russia's help in providing transit to Afghanistan, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told journalists.
"Several days ago we gave a positive answer to the United States on the question of transit to Afghanistan ... We'll be flexible in many other ways which will support our joint success in Afghanistan," Karasin said.
Despite the closure of the Kyrgyz base -- a decision analysts say was taken under heavy pressure from Moscow -- Karasin maintained that Russia was ready to cooperate on the transit issue.
Some reports have suggested this could include sending non-lethal supplies across Russian territory by rail.
"We hope in the near future there will be specific, professional talks ... between us and the Americans. So we will see where we can cooperate very quickly and efficiently," Karasin said.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov also said Moscow was ready to help start dialogue between the United States and Iran, which has a historic relationship with Moscow.
"If somebody asks us to help establish direct dialogue (between Washington and Tehran), we are ready to help such dialogue get started," Ivanov told AFP in an interview.

Date created : 2009-02-05