Putin would not support a US invasion of Afghanistan

Russia
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The Independent Online

Despite calls from US President George Bush to Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking for full support in the wake of the suicide attacks, Russia is making it clear that it will not back an American invasion of Afghanistan from bases in the former Soviet Central Asia.

Sergei Ivanov, the Russian Defence Minister, said: "I don't see any basis for even the hypothetical possibility of Nato military operations on the territory of central Asian nations that belong to the Commonwealth of Independent States."

There has been speculation in the US that Russia and its allies would help the US encircle Afghanistan from the north, while Washington pressured Pakistan to act from the south against Afghanistan.

Russia is the main player in the loose group of neighbours of Afghanistan which supports the anti-Taliban rebel group, Northern Alliance, in the north of the country. Russia also has the 201st division, with about 25,000 troops, based in Tajikistan and located immediately north of the Afghan border.

Mr Bush is reported to be seeking Russian help because of its deep knowledge of Afghanistan, where it fought a long war, and its domination of the immense region north of Afghanistan. In both cases Russian resources may be less than they seem. After all, the Russian army failed to defeat the rebels in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. Its intelligence information is also more than a little rusty. Russia is still the strongest power in central Asia, but it does not dominate the five states carved out of the old Soviet Union. Several of them are suspicious of Russian designs.

General Anatoly Kvashnin, the Russian Chief of Staff, said it was unlikely that the Russian army would take part in any "acts of revenge" against the perpetrators of the attacks in the US. "The US has powerful enough military forces that it can cope with this task on its own," he said.

Meanwhile, Nikolai Kovalyov, the former head of the Russian FSB security service, warned the US that an attack on Afghanistan would fail to capture Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the atrocities, and would backfire on the US. "In Afghanistan's mountainous terrain it takes a trainload of explosives to destroy three militants," he said. "The chance of hitting bin Laden is zero."

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