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16 Dec, 2008 15:27

U.S. "to set up bases" in Central Asia

The U.S. is planning to set up military bases in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, according to Russia's head of the General Staff. He said Washington already has forces in Bulgaria and Romania that can become operational within hours, raising concern in Moscow.

Speaking at the Academy of Military Science, General Nikolay Makarov also pointed out that the U.S. is prompting Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO.

“In this situation, it is clear that Russia is concerned by the deployment near its borders of NATO's advanced forces and bases ready to start combat operations within hours.”

The chief of the General Staff also cited U.S. president-elect Barack Obama who said that “all efforts should be consolidated to monitor democratic reforms in Russia and China.”

General Makarov added that anyone hoping for policy change after Obama takes office is making a dire mistake.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – former Soviet republics in Central Asia – are strategically important partners for both Moscow and Washington.

The U.S. is strengthening its ties with oil-rich Kazakhstan, which in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, allowed American planes to fly over its territory during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

Now that Washington has announced its plans to send 20,000 more troops to the war-ravaged country, the U.S., according to some Russian experts, will need more bases in neighbouring states.

The U.S. also had a military base in Uzbekistan which served as a hub for combat and humanitarian missions to Afghanistan until 2005 when the Central Asian state evicted American troops from the airbase.

But now Uzbekistan is turning its foreign policy westwards and searching for closer ties with Washington and the EU.