Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, recently told leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a grouping of 12 former Soviet republics, that "now is the right time to give meaning" to a collective security treaty. He said that as the Chechnya crisis deepened and in the wake of bomb attacks on Russian targets, Central Asian states faced a threat from international extremists "sheltering behind religious Islamic slogans".
Referring to rebels in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, he said: "We are not fighting Muslims; we are fighting terrorists."
Rebels are attacking Kyrgyzstan's south-western tip after crossing from Tajikistan. Though offers of Russian troops have been declined by the Kyrgyz, weapons and "technical support" have been gratefully received.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) fighters are aiming to set up an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. Russian-supplied aircraft have been used by the Uzbeks in raids against IMU fighters in Kyrgyzstan at the request of the Kyrgyz government.
Russians form the bulk of a CIS force in Tajikistan, bordering Afghanistan, which has for years monitored a peace process between the neo-communist government and Islamic former rebels.
Russia has kept soldiers in Tajikistan since 1992, on the ground that its national security was threatened by the Islamic rebels who were making cross-border incursions from inside Afghanistan.