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Ex-Soviet states discuss joint military force to counter NATO

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-07-31

The presidents of seven ex-Soviet states are meeting in Kyrgyzstan to discuss implementing the first joint rapid-reaction force of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a military alliance led by Russia, intended as a counterweight to NATO.

AFP - President Dmitry Medvedev Friday opened a major Russian-owned hydroelectric plant in Tajikistan and was to attend a regional summit as Moscow seeks to firm its influence in the region. 
   
Medvedev inaugurated the 720-million dollar Sangtudinskaya plant in southern Tajikistan alongside Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, a facility that aims to ease the Central Asian country's chronic energy problems.
   
The ceremony 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of the Tajik capital Dushanbe was accompanied by Tajik folk singing and came as Russia and the United States compete for influence in Central Asia, Moscow's former Soviet backyard.
   
Tajikistan neighbours conflict-torn Afghanistan, the main foreign policy priority for US President Barack Obama.
   
Medvedev was later to fly to Kyrgyzstan and join six other ex-Soviet presidents at a summit of a regional security body seen as a counterweight to NATO which is now devising its own joint rapid reaction force.
   
The Tajik power plant -- is set to provide 12 percent of the Central Asian country's total energy production -- was built at a cost of 720 million dollars and is by far the biggest Russian-Tajik project of recent times.
   
"This is without doubt a joyful event for all of our people. This is proof of the fruitfulness of our bilateral relations," Rakhmon said.
   
"This is certainly the most important step in the cooperation between our countries," Medvedev added.
   
The Russian state and affiliated companies own about 84 percent of the project while Tajikistan own 16.45 percent.
   
Despite the warm words of the presidents, there have been concerns in Moscow about Rakhmon's increasingly independently-minded behaviour as he looks to improve his impoverished state's financial situation.
   
Russian media has reported that Tajikistan wanted Russia to start paying for a military base it maintains in the country and to pull out Russian border guards stationed on Tajik territory.
   
Russia's 201st base, set up in 2005, is made up of 5,500 soldiers and officers and has the aim of helping maintain stability in Central Asia and providing support for Tajik troops.
   
There have also been concerns in Moscow that moves by Rakhmon to promote the country's main language Tajik -- a dialect of Persian written with the Cyrillic alphabet -- do not come at the expense of the status of Russian.
   
Meanwhile, the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) on the idyllic shores of Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan could also be marked by disputes with Russia's ex-Soviet subjects.
   
The leaders were set to discuss the implementation of a deal signed June 14 to set up a so-called Collective Operational Reaction Force (CORF), a clear bid to rival the Western military alliance NATO's own joint operations.
   
But the idea had a difficult birth when the authoritarian but increasingly Western-leaning president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, refused to show up at the June 14 meeting in Moscow to sign the document.
   
Lukashenko, to the surprise of some, is expected to attend the Kyrgyzstan meeting and Kremlin officials had expressed confidence that he would sign the document at the lakeside resort of Cholpon-Ata.
   
But Valentin Rybakov, an aide to Lukashenko, told the Kommersant newspaper: "As a sovereign and independent state, Belarus will decide itself what CSTO documents to sign and when."
   
Russia will also not be able to succeed in persuading Kyrgyzstan to sign documents on the creation of a base for the rapid reaction force in its city of Osh at the summit, Kommersant said.
   
The organization's secretary general, Nikolai Bordyuzha, said the creation of the base had not even been put on the summit agenda, Interfax news agency reported.
   
The CSTO is made up of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
   
Kommersant said Uzbekistan's strongman President Islam Karimov -- currently seeking better ties with the United States -- would also signal his opposition to the base's creation at the summit.
   
Kyrgyzstan in June agreed to let US forces remain at the Manas airbase outside Bishkek, used to support operations in Afghanistan, effectively reversing a previous decision in a move seen by many as a blow for Moscow.
 

Date created : 2009-07-31

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