Russia says it wants to help US in Afghanistan

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that Russia and its ex-Soviet allies want to help the United States stabilize Afghanistan, saying Moscow wanted "full-fledged" cooperation with Washington.

He spoke a day after the ex-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan announced it would evict the U.S. from an air base key to the Afghan war. Kyrgyzstan made the move after getting a promise for $2 billion in loans from Russia - which resents the American presence in a region Moscow regards as part of its traditional sphere of influence.

The possibility of the base closure poses a serious challenge to the new U.S. administration and President Barack Obama's plan to send up to 30,000 more American forces into Afghanistan this year.

"Russia and other (alliance members) are ready for full-fledged comprehensive cooperation with the United States and other coalition members in fighting terrorism in the region. This fight must be comprehensive and include both military and political components. Only in the case will this have a chance to succeed," Medvedev said.

It was not clear if Medvedev's reference to "full-fledged" cooperation was an attempt to reassure Washington or an indication that Moscow would seek concessions in exchange for helping keep the Manas air base open.

In Washington, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said Wednesday that about 1,000 U.S. troops - and dozens each of French and Spanish - are working at the base to move 15,000 people and 500 tons of cargo monthly through the facility for the Afghan campaign.

"Kyrgyzstan has been a good ally. And we certainly appreciate the arrangement that we have with them right now," Whitman told Pentagon reporters. "The base does contribute to the security and stability of Central Asia and Afghanistan."

Use of the facility is laid out in a July 2006 U.S.-Kyrgyz agreement that requires the U.S. to pay $17.4 million a year, renewable each year through July 2011 - and with the option by either side to back out of the agreement with 180 days notice, Whitman said. Total U.S. assistance to the country is about $150 million a year, including health, police, human rights and economic programs.

Russia has appeared open to aiding the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan by facilitating attempts to find northern alternatives to Pakistani supply lines increasingly threatened by militant attacks. But Moscow also wants to protect what it says as its strategic backyard by blocking the possibility of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. Russia has also vehemently opposed U.S. plans to put a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Medvedev appeared to criticize U.S. efforts on stabilizing Afghanistan, saying it would be impossible to defeat terrorism there only using military means.

"It is necessary to form a full-fledged political system, keeping in mind, cultural and historic traditions. Democracy cannot be forced upon (a country). It must grow from within," he said.

"It's not the number of bases that matters. It would be good if that would help reduce the number of terrorists, but the fight against terrorism is not limited to building up military forces," he said.

Russia, which waged its own bloody and unsuccessful attempt to control Afghanistan, has sent mixed signals about working with the Obama administration, after years of political clashes with the administration of George W. Bush.

On Wednesday, Medvedev hosted presidents from seven-member Collective Security Treaty Organization - a loose, Moscow-dominated alliance made up of several ex-Soviet states.

After Kremlin talks, the group announced the creation of a joint rapid reaction force that would boost the military dimension to the alliance, which until now has served mostly as a forum for security consultations.

© 2009 The Associated


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