Moscow is demanding that Washington recognize Russia’s “national interests” in Central Asia if the U.S. is to acquire strategically valuable bases of operation against terrorists in Afghanistan, according to official Russian sources.

“Before planning to use Central Asian territories to carry out its retaliatory attack, Washington should consult Moscow – for the region is a traditional area of Russian influence,” Moscow said, describing the former Soviet republics of Central Asia as “partners and allies.”

The remarks were carried by the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government.

Central Asia, a vast land mass with both enormous mineral wealth and a high level of severe poverty, was once an important element of the former Soviet Union. They obtained their independence when the USSR collapsed.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated, Western interests, including U.S. oil and gas companies, attempted to expand their influence in Central Asia at the expense of their Russian competitors.

NATO also sought to establish its presence in the Central Asian region and displace Russia as the dominant military presence there.

The former Soviet republics are governed by rulers with close ties to Moscow and who retain their power by virtue of highly questionable elections.

Several of the former Central Asian Soviet republics are troubled with rising militant Islamic revolutionary movements, and two of the republics – Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – find themselves on the front line in the U.S.’ newly declared war against Osama bin Laden’s terrorists.

The United States has approached both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan regarding the possibility of hosting bases of operation against the terrorist bases in Afghanistan. Both republics have regarded the offer with varying degrees of uncertainty.

The Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, ruled out the possibility of a U.S.-led coalition using Central Asian territory “even in theory.”

Ivanov’s position “appears to meet with understanding on the part of Central Asian capitals,” because, according to Moscow, these former Soviet republics “are fully aware how vital the region is in terms of Russia’s national interests.”

In the face of the new energetic American initiatives against the Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, Russia tasked its Security Council secretary, Vladimir Rushailo, with working out “a common strategy for … acts of retaliation against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.”

In an apparent sudden change of policy, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov assured U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday that Russia would not object to U.S. attempts to secure cooperation from the Central Asian states.

The abrupt change in Moscow’s policy does not alter a constant in Russian foreign policy – recognition of Russian hegemony in former Soviet Central Asia.

Voice of Russia quotes the prominent scholar, Anatol Lieven, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as stating that “the price of genuinely close cooperation” between Moscow and Washington is for the U.S. to recognize the “prevalence of Russian interests” in Central Asia.

Recognition of Moscow’s continued domination of the territory of Central Asia – a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union – is the apparent price demanded for assistance in the U.S. campaign against world terrorism.

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