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Threat to Stability: Shoigu Declared U.S. and NATO Responsibility for Terrorism in Central Asia

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the situation in the Central Asian region has preconditions for further aggravation. This information was voiced at a meeting of defense ministers of the SCO member states in New Delhi. According to Shoigu, the main threat comes from numerous radical extremist groups on the territory of Afghanistan, because militants of these organizations have intensified actions in the neighboring republics to propagandize their ideas.

“The probability of infiltration of gangs of various international terrorist organizations, such as ISIS*, al-Qaeda*, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan*** and the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan is increasing,” Shoigu said.

The Defense Minister stresses that this tendency requires the SCO members to “clearly coordinate” and increase efforts in combating dangerous unlawful phenomena and working out measures for stabilizing the situation. For this reason, according to the Defense Minister, the issue of Afghanistan should remain on the agenda of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Shoigu said that NATO countries, which were fulfilling combat missions in Afghanistan for 20 years and then hastily left the country, bear the biggest responsibility for the current situation in Afghanistan.

According to the Minister of Defense, it was the NATO countries that should bear the main financial costs of the post-conflict reconstruction of Afghanistan. But instead, the U.S. and its allies, under the pretext of assistance in combating terrorism, are trying “to restore their military presence in Central Asia.

As the Russian defense minister noted, the SCO countries should deepen military cooperation to counter current threats. For its part, Moscow increases the combat readiness of military bases of the Russian Armed Forces in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, “as well as other forces responding to possible challenges.

Recall that the united Russian military airbase Kant is currently deployed in Kyrgyzstan, the air wing of which includes Su-25 attack aircrafts and Mi-8MTV helicopters.

Structurally, “Kant” is part of the 14th Air Force and Air Defense Army of the Central Military District. The base is an air component of the collective rapid deployment force and carries out tasks to ensure the security of CSTO member states.

“The pilots of the base annually take part in various international counterterrorism exercises, invariably confirming their high level of professional training,” reads the materials of the Russian Defense Ministry.

To maintain security in Tajikistan, the 201st Gatchina Military Base decorated with the Order of Zhukov, twice Red Banner, was deployed. It is located in two cities, Dushanbe and Bokhtar (Kurgan-Tyube) and has over 6,000 servicemen. The base includes an air group, motorized rifle, artillery, reconnaissance, antiaircraft, missile and other units. Combat training of servicemen is carried out at Liaur and Sambuli training ranges. In recent years, the base added S-300PS SAMs, BMP-2M armored vehicles and upgraded T-72B3M tanks.

In a conversation with , Director of the PFUR Institute for Strategic Studies and Forecasting Dmitry Yegorchenkov said that by strengthening the combat readiness of military bases in Central Asia, Moscow seeks to ensure that they can effectively counter various forms of terrorist activity.

“The military presence is essential to ensure the safety of Central Asian civilians and protect Russia itself by suppressing cross-border crime and terrorism,” Yegorchenkov said;

According to the expert, as a result of the 20-year presence of the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan, the situation in Central Asia has only worsened.

“Washington promised to fight terrorism, drug trafficking, and stabilize the internal situation in Afghanistan, but it has done none of this. However, Russia did not expect that the U.S. military presence and the subsequent hasty withdrawal in 2021 would produce any real positive results. I think Moscow has always counted on its own forces and on good relations with partners in the region,” Egorchenkov said.

In a comment for , Vladimir Batiuk, head of the Center for Political-Military Studies at the Institute of the US and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences, admitted that Moscow could receive serious support from Beijing on counterterrorism issues.

As a reminder, on March 21, during Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, a Joint Statement “on deepening the relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation, entering a new era” was adopted. The document fixes including plans for the joint fight against terrorism and the “East Turkistan Islamic Movement”, which has links with Al Qaeda and IS. According to Chinese authorities, it is the East Turkistan Islamic Movement that was behind the attacks committed in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in 2014.

“China is determined to uproot terrorism in the region, and here its interests coincide with Russia’s. Beijing realizes that the Americans have left, to put it mildly, a very ambiguous legacy in Afghanistan. After the U.S. fled, our states have engaged with the country’s new leadership and, as I understand it, intend to help other countries curb terrorist activity in Central Asia,” Batiuk noted.

In a conversation with , the vice-rector for international relations of GAUGN and editor-in-chief of “Eurasia. Expert,” Vyacheslav Sutyrin said that in addition to terrorism, the situation in Central Asia can be shaken by the current policy of Washington, which is trying to strengthen its influence in the region and weaken the ties of its countries with Russia and China;

“The current U.S. strategy is to contain Russia and China. To this end, it is in Washington’s interests to rock and destabilize the situation in Central Asia. This is how the Americans think they can divert resources and attention of our countries from solving urgent international problems,” says Sutyrin;

The evidence of the growing activity of American diplomacy in the Central Asian direction is the tour of U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken through the countries of the region in late February – early March, experts say. At the same time, from Washington’s point of view, all regional issues can be solved in partnership with the United States in the “C5 + 1” format (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan + the United States).

At the same time, according to the Russian side, the U.S. authorities pressure on the countries of the region because they have not joined the sanctions against Russia. In addition, Washington continues to use its bio-labs there.

“In my opinion, Washington expects that the military presence in Central Asia will allow it to more actively develop biolaboratories, which are already funded through the Pentagon,” Sutyrin reasoned.

According to Dmitriy Yegorchenkov, another task for the United States is to deploy its military infrastructure facilities in the region, if possible. Such attempts were repeatedly made by Washington before it left Afghanistan and after the evacuation from the republic. For its part, Moscow considers any form of U.S. military presence in Central Asia unacceptable.

“The withdrawal from Afghanistan has deprived the U.S. of important levers of control over this macro-region. In my opinion, Americans really want to get a foothold in Central Asia. It meets their interests and aspirations. I don’t know what decision the authorities of these countries will make, but it’s worth understanding that the deployment of U.S. troops will not improve the security situation,” Yegorchenkov said.

Vladimir Batyuk, for his part, doubts that there will be American military bases in Central Asia. In his opinion, Russia retains its status as a guarantor of military assistance in fighting extremism and terrorism.

Vyacheslav Sutyrin holds the same point of view. According to the expert, CSTO mechanisms can be effectively applied to stop terrorist threats;

“Russia is interested in a stable Central Asia and is really ready to help countries that are members of the CSTO,” the analyst concluded;

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